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Submission + - New Desalination Method Shocks The Salts Out Of Water (

MTorrice writes: As more and more people live in areas affected by drought or contaminated water, desalination is becoming an important way to meet global drinking water needs. So scientists continue to develop ever simpler and less expensive desalination methods.

Current technologies, for example, frequently rely on membranes to filter out ions. These membranes eventually get clogged and must be replaced, increasing costs.

A new method for water desalination separates salt water into briny and fresh streams with the help of an electric shock wave.

Submission + - Pesticides Turn Bumblebees Into Poor Pollinators (

MTorrice writes: Neonicotinoid pesticides have been blamed for declines in bee populations worldwide. The chemicals don’t kill bees, instead neonicotinoids impair the insects’ abilities to learn, navigate, forage for nectar, and reproduce, according to studies published over the past several years.

Now, researchers report that bees exposed to the pesticides also become less effective pollinators for crops.

The study is the first to demonstrate that neonicotinoids can decrease the quality of a food crop by affecting bee pollination. About 30% of our food comes from crops, including fruits, nuts, seeds, and oils, that depend on insect pollinators, according to Dara A. Stanley of Royal Holloway, University of London, who led the new study. “Basically,” she says, “you can’t have a balanced diet without insect pollination.”

Submission + - Tiny Bits Of Plastic Found In Table Salt In China (

MTorrice writes: Diners in China who season their meals with sea salt may be unwittingly consuming microscopic pieces of plastic pollution.

When researchers analyzed fifteen brands of common table salt bought at supermarkets across China, they found among the grains of seasoning micro-sized particles of the common water bottle plastic polyethylene terephthalate, as well as polyethylene, cellophane, and a wide variety of other plastics.

The highest level of plastic contamination was found in salt sourced from the ocean: The researchers measured more than 1,200 particles of plastic per lb of sea salt. The team also found tiny particles of plastic in salt sourced from briny lakes, briny wells, and salt mines, although at lower levels—between 15 and 800 particles per lb.

Submission + - FDA-Approved Drugs Boost Hair Regrowth In Mice (

MTorrice writes: Although the idea of going bald typically conjures images of aging men, hair loss affects people of all genders and ages: Hair can fall out prematurely because of genetic predisposition, stress, drug side effects, or autoimmune disorders. A recent test of two FDA-approved drugs—ruxolitinib and tofacitinib—now suggests that a general treatment for all these hair loss conditions might be on the way.

A team of researchers at Columbia University had observed that these drugs—approved for the treatment of myelofibrosis and rheumatoid arthritis, respectively—promoted hair growth when fed to mice but also impaired the animals’ immune systems. The scientists found that the compounds worked better when rubbed onto the rodents’ skin rather than when administered orally.

Submission + - A Fresh Take on Fake Meat

JMarshall writes: Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley food start-up started by a Stanford professor who quit his job, just raised $108 million to pursue a plant-based burger that truly tastes like meat. This article explains how Impossible Foods and other startups and researchers are tackling the tricky chemical and engineering challenge of making fake meat that tastes real.

Submission + - Cellulose Nanofibers Improve Paper Recyclability

JMarshall writes: Adding cellulose nanofibers to paper pulp creates paper that can be recycled more than twice as many times as regular paper. In the past few years, researchers have been interested in making paper with nanometers-wide cellulose fibers in addition to regular fibers. The high surface area of such nanofibers lets them form more bonds with adjacent fibers, resulting in tougher paper.

In a new study, researchers recycled standard paper several times by using either conventional mechanical recycling techniques or by adding 3% by weight of cellulose nanofibers to the paper pulp at each cycle. Conventional recycling made the sheets unusable for writing after three cycles, whereas the nanofiber-treated paper could be recycled seven times.

The researchers also conducted a preliminary life-cycle assessment of the environmental impact of the two techniques. The two recycling techniques had a similar environmental impact, but the researchers expect that future efficiency gains in the nanofiber production process could give nanofiber paper an environmental edge.

Submission + - Cyanobacteria May Feed Populations Of Oil-Degrading Microbes In The Ocean (

MTorrice writes: After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, microbes living in the Gulf of Mexico devoured a significant amount of the hydrocarbons released by the gushing deep-sea well. A new study offers an explanation for what bacteria like these might live off of in the absence of a massive oil spill: hydrocarbons produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria.

Researchers estimate that cyanobacteria produce up to 800 million tons of hydrocarbons every year. In comparison, the U.S. produced about 700 million tons of petroleum and other hydrocarbons in 2014, the most of any nation that year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“People have known for a while that bacteria play a large role in breaking down oil spills,” says David Lea-Smith of the University of Cambridge, who led the research. “This study gives a hypothesis for why those bacteria are there in the first place.”

Submission + - Endocannabinoids Contribute to Runner's High (

MTorrice writes: After a nice long bout of aerobic exercise, some people experience what’s known as a “runner’s high”: a feeling of euphoria coupled with reduced anxiety and a lessened ability to feel pain. For decades, scientists have associated this phenomenon with an increased level in the blood of -endorphins, opioid peptides thought to elevate mood.

Now, German researchers have shown the brain’s endocannabinoid system—the same one affected by marijuana’s 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—may also play a role in producing runner’s high, at least in mice.

Submission + - Googling Air Pollution (

MTorrice writes: Aclima, a start-up company that develops sensor networks, has partnered with Google and EPA to roll out an unprecedented fleet of mobile air quality monitors in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and California’s Central Valley.

Although these monitors boast some of the latest sensor technology, they’ll still be familiar to many: They’re the same vehicles Google uses to capture photos for its popular Street View feature in Google Maps.

“Our goal is to create a new class of data that will be made available to communities, scientists, and air quality experts—as well as on Google Earth and Google Maps,” says Aclima CEO and cofounder Davida Herzl.

Submission + - Dormant Virus Wakes Up In Some Patients With Lou Gehrig's Disease (

MTorrice writes: Our chromosomes hold a partial record of prehistoric viral infections: About 8% of our genomes come from DNA that viruses incorporated into the cells of our ancestors. Over many millennia, these viral genes have accumulated mutations rendering them mostly dormant.

But one of these viruses can reawaken in some patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive muscle wasting disease commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. A new study demonstrates that this so-called endogenous retrovirus can damage neurons, possibly contributing to the neurodegeneration seen in the disease.

The findings raise the possibility that antiretroviral drugs, similar to those used to treat HIV, could slow the progression of ALS in some patients.

Submission + - Nuclear Forensics Shows Nazis Were Nowhere Near Making Atomic Bomb (

MTorrice writes: Today’s nuclear forensic scientists are typically concerned with detecting radioactive materials being smuggled across borders or tracking down the facilities where those materials originated. But recently, nuclear scientists turned their investigative skills to a nagging question from the annals of science history: During World War II, were the Germans close to achieving a working nuclear reactor?

By analyzing a uranium cube uncovered in the 1960s that had been used in Germany’s nuclear program during the war, the scientists determined that the Germans weren’t even close

Submission + - Potential Soft Drink Additives Could Protect Teeth (

MTorrice writes: Whether you call them bottles of pop or bottles of soda, regularly guzzling soft drinks can lead to tooth decay. Over time, the acidic beverages erode hydroxyapatite (HA), a major component of tooth enamel.

For those unwilling to give up the sugary drinks, help may be on the way: Researchers in Sweden have determined how potential soft drink additives could protect teeth.

In the past, food scientists and dentists have suggested adding food-safe, HA-preserving polyelectrolytes to beverages. But little was known about how these conductive polymers might provide protection. Javier Sortes of Malmö University and coworkers have now employed surface imaging techniques to better understand how the potential additives interact with saliva coatings on the surface of teeth.

Submission + - Stem Cell-Derived Brain Mimics Predict Chemical Toxicity (

MTorrice writes: Scientists in Wisconsin have succeeded in growing three-dimensional brainlike tissue structures derived from human embryonic stem cells. Unlike previous miniature model brains, the new structures can be easily reproduced and they contain vascular cells and microglia, a type of immune cell.

These brain mimics may provide a fast, low cost way to screen drugs and chemicals for their ability to disrupt human brain development, the team reports. Current toxicity screening tests use multiple generations of rats and cost about $1 million to test one chemical.

Comment Re:Are prions a life form? (Score 1) 53

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.

Neckties strangle clear thinking. -- Lin Yutang