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Biotech

Our Brains Use Binary Logic, Say Neuroscientists (sciencedaily.com) 68

"The brain's basic computational algorithm is organized by power-of-two-based logic," reports Sci-News, citing a neuroscientist at Augusta University's Medical College. hackingbear writes: He and his colleagues from the U.S. and China have documented the algorithm at work in seven different brain regions involved with basics like food and fear in mice and hamsters. "Intelligence is really about dealing with uncertainty and infinite possibilities," he said. "It appears to be enabled when a group of similar neurons form a variety of cliques to handle each basic like recognizing food, shelter, friends and foes. Groups of cliques then cluster into functional connectivity motifs to handle every possibility in each of these basics. The more complex the thought, the more cliques join in."
Medicine

Sugar-Free Products Might Actually Stop Us From Getting Slimmer (dw.com) 172

Nutritionists suspected that artificial sweeteners weren't really helping people lose weight, according to a new article submitted by schwit1. Now there's hints of proof in a new aspartame study by the Massachusetts General Hospital. "We found that aspartame blocks a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase," explains Professor Hodin. IAP is produced in the small intestine. "We previously showed [this enzyme] can prevent obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome [a disease characterized by a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, a metabolic disorder and insulin resistance]. So, we think that aspartame might not work because, even as it is substituting for sugar, it blocks the beneficial aspects of IAP...."

The researchers confirmed their suspicions via a variety of tests on mice. In one case, they fed IAP directly to mice, who were also on a high-fat diet. It turned out that the IAP could effectively prevent the emergence of the metabolic syndrome. It also helped relieve symptoms in animals that were already suffering from the obesity-related illness.

Medicine

Researchers Successfully Achieve Suspended Animation With Mouse Embryos (engadget.com) 28

"It was completely surprising. We were standing around in the tissue culture room, scratching our heads, and saying 'Wow, what do we make of this?'" An anonymous reader quotes Engadget's report on new research with "huge implications": A team of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco only wanted to slow down mice embryos' cell growth in the lab. Instead, they managed to completely pause their development, putting the blastocysts (very early embryos) in suspended animation for a month. What's more, they found that the process can put stem cells derived from the blastocysts in suspended animation as well, [and] the researchers were able to prove that the embryos can develop normally even after a pause in their growth. Team member Ramalho-Santos from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research said... "To put it in perspective, mouse pregnancies only last about 20 days, so the 30-day-old 'paused' embryos we were seeing would have been pups approaching weaning already if they'd been allowed to develop normally."
The new research could lead to better treatments for damaged organs and even aging, according to the article. (Besides, of course, its science fiction-y implications for long-distance space travel...)
Biotech

Brain Cancer Patients Live Longer By Sending Electric Fields Through Their Heads (ieee.org) 74

IEEE Spectrum reports on a "radical new weapon" against brain tumors -- only available since 2015. They profile a typical patient who "wears electrodes on her head all day and night to send an electric field through her brain, trying to prevent any leftover tumor cells from multiplying [and] goes about her business with a shaved head plastered with electrodes, which are connected by wires to a bulky generator she carries in a shoulder bag." the_newsbeagle writes: The Optune system, which bathes the brain tumor in an AC electric field, is the first new treatment to come along that seems to extend some patients' lives. New data on survival rates from a major clinical trial showed that 43% of patients who used Optune were still alive at the 2-year mark, compared to 30% of patients on the standard treatment regimen. At the 4-year mark, the survival rates were 17% for Optune patients and 10% for the others.
Patients have to re-shave their heads every few days and re-apply all the electrodes, but that's never been a problem, according to one patient. "If you have a condition which has no cure, it's a great motivator."
Medicine

Scientists Believe There's Finally A Cure For The Common Cold (dailymail.co.uk) 193

schwit1 writes: After decades of research, the fabled cure for the common cold could be on its way in the form of a nasal spray called SynGEM, the brainchild of a Dutch biotechnology company. After successful tests on mice and rats (yes, they get colds too), 36 human volunteers at London's Imperial College are now trying out the spray.
While colds can be caused by hundreds of different viruses, just three viruses are responsible for 80% of them -- and yet colds are responsible for 40% of the sick days taken in the U.S., according to another article, as well as 75 million doctor visits (costing $7.7 billion) every year, plus another $2.9 billion for cold medications. One experimental medicine professor at London's Imperial College London has spent the last 30 years researching colds and flu, and though a cure has never been found, he now tells the Daily Mail, "I think we are on the verge of it. I really do."
Earth

Feeding Seaweed To Cows Eliminates Methane Emissions (www.cbc.ca) 283

Dave Knott writes: A Canadian farmer has "helped lead to a researcher's discovery of an unlikely weapon in the battle against global warming: a seaweed that nearly eliminates the destructive methane content of cow burps and farts," reports the CBC. "Joe Dorgan began feeding his cattle seaweed from nearby beaches more than a decade ago as a way to cut costs... Then researcher Rob Kinley of Dalhousie University caught wind of it." He tested Dorgan's seaweed mix, discovering that it reduced the methane in the cows' burps and farts by about 20 per cent. "Kinley knew he was on to something, so he did further testing with 30 to 40 other seaweeds. That led him to a red seaweed Asparagopsis taxiformis he says reduces methane in cows burps and farts to almost nothing."

"Ruminant animals are responsible for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, so it's not a small number," said Kinley, an agricultural research scientist now working at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Queensland, Australia. "We're talking numbers equivalent to hundreds of millions of cars."

The researcher predicts a seaweed-based cow feed could be on the market within three to five years, according to the article. "He says the biggest challenge will be growing enough seaweed."
Medicine

Chemical Traces On Your Phone Reveal Your Lifestyle, Scientists Say (theguardian.com) 80

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Scientists say they can deduce the lifestyle of an individual, down to the kind of grooming products they use, food they eat and medications they take, from chemicals found on the surface of their mobile phone. Experts say analysis of someone's phone could be a boon both to healthcare professionals, and the police. "You can narrow down male versus female; if you then figure out they use sunscreen then you pick out the [people] that tend to be outdoorsy -- so all these little clues can sort of narrow down the search space of candidate people for an investigator," said Pieter Dorrestein, co-author of the research from the University of California, San Diego. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the U.S. and Germany describe how they swabbed the mobile phone and right hand of 39 individuals and analyzed the samples using the highly sensitive technique of mass spectrometry. The results revealed that each person had a distinct "signature" set of chemicals on their hands which distinguished them from each other. What's more, these chemicals partially overlapped with those on their phones, allowing the devices to be distinguished from each other, and matched to their owners. Analysis of the chemical traces using a reference database allowed the team to match the chemicals to known substances or their relatives to reveal tell-tale clues from each individual's life -- from whether they use hair-loss treatments to whether they are taking antidepressants.
Medicine

A USB Stick Can Show HIV Test Results In Under 30 Minutes (qz.com) 52

Researchers at Imperial College London have developed a USB stick that can measure the presence and amount of HIV in a person's blood in under 30 minutes and with 95% accuracy. The USB stick should help make testing easier in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV is a serious problem and where many people live in rural regions hours or days travel away from hospitals or clinics. Also, traditional HIV testing can take days to show results, whereas the USB stick can show results in minutes. Quartz reports: The new diagnostic tool, co-created by the university and biotech company DNA Electronics, requires simply putting a single drop of blood onto a designated spot on the USB stick. The device contains a mechanism that can detect if there's any HIV genetic material -- RNA -- in the drop of blood, and if so, how much. Then, when the stick is connected to a laptop or handheld device, the data are automatically delivered to an app where the patient can quickly read his or her results. One of the most effective HIV treatments currently, called anti-retroviral treatment, reduces virus levels to near zero. However, in some cases, the virus may develop a resistance to medication or therapy, causing the virus to resurface. To catch such developments early, patients can use the devices for monitoring purposes. "The disposable test could be used by HIV patients to monitor their own treatment and help patients in remote regions of the world, where more standard HIV tests are inaccessible," the authors of the study write. For now, it's still in the proof-of-concept stage, and years away from hitting the market.
Biotech

First Color Images Produced By an Electron Microscope (sciencemag.org) 46

Slashdot reader sciencehabit quotes Science magazine: Imagine spending your whole life seeing the world in black and white, and then seeing a vase of roses in full color for the first time. That's kind of what it was like for the scientists who have taken the first multicolor images of cells using an electron microscope. Electron microscopes can magnify an object up to 10 million times, allowing researchers to peer into the inner workings of, say, a cell or a fly's eye, but until now they've only been able to see in black and white. The new advance -- 15 years in the making -- uses three different kinds of rare earth metals called lanthanides...layered one-by-one over cells on a microscope slide. The microscope detects when each metal loses electrons and records each unique loss as an artificial color.
Medicine

Male Birth Control Shot Found Effective (bbc.com) 372

An anonymous reader quotes the BBC: A hormone injection has been shown to be a safe and effective method of contraception -- for men. U.S. researchers say the jab was almost 96% effective in tests on around 270 men who were using it, with four pregnancies among their partners. However, a relatively high number developed side effects, including acne and mood disorders... Because men constantly produce sperm, high levels of hormones are needed to reduce levels from the normal sperm count of over 15 million per milliliter to under one million/ml.
One professor pointed out that despite the side effects, "75% of the men who took part in the trial would be willing to use this method of contraception again."
Medicine

Harvard Researchers Print World's First Heart-On-A-Chip (gizmodo.com) 20

Harvard University researchers have successfully 3D printed the first heart-on-a-chip with integrated sensors that are capable of measuring the beating of the heart. Gizmodo reports: The printed organ is made of synthetic material designed to mimic the structure and function of native tissue. It is not designed to replace failing human organs, but it can be used for scientific studies, something that is expected to rapidly increase research on new medicine. The medical breakthrough may also allow scientists to rapidly design organs-on-chips to match specific disease properties or even a patient's cells. Organs-on-chips, also known by the more technical name microphysiological systems, replicate the structure and function of living human organs. Each is made of a translucent, flexible polymer that lets scientists replicate biological environments of living organs. The chips are also clear so that the scientists can see an inner-working into how the organs work. A large part of the breakthrough was actually developing six different printable inks capable of integrating sensors within the tissue being printed. In one continuous printing process, the team 3D printed materials into a heart-on-a-chip with integrated sensors. The sensors were capable of measuring the beating of the heart. The new study has been published today in Nature Materials.
Earth

Scientific Breakthrough Increases Plant Yields By One Third (wsu.edu) 197

Slashdot reader schwit1 writes, "Plant scientists have found a way to encourage plants to better use atmospheric nitrogen, thus increasing yields by more than one third. The technique not only produces healthier plants and more seeds, it reduces the need for fertilizer, the overuse of which can be an environmental issue." From WSU News: For years, scientists have tried to increase the rate of nitrogen [conversion] in legumes by altering...interactions that take place between the bacterioid and the root nodule cells. [Washington State University biologist Mechthild] Tegeder took a different approach: She increased the number of proteins that help move nitrogen from the rhizobia bacteria to the plant's leaves, seed-producing organs and other areas where it is needed. The additional transport proteins sped up the overall export of nitrogen from the root nodules.

This initiated a feedback loop that caused the rhizobia to start fixing more atmospheric nitrogen, which the plant then used to produce more seeds. "They are bigger, grow faster and generally look better than natural soybean plants," Tegeder said.

Earth

'Nano-Machines' Win European Trio Chemistry Nobel Prize (theguardian.com) 16

Dave Knott writes from a report via The Guardian: Sir Fraser Stoddart, from Scotland, Bernard Feringa, from the Netherlands, and Jean-Pierre Sauvage, from France have won the Nobel prize in chemistry for developing "nano-machines," an advance that paved the way for the world's first smart materials. In living organisms, cells work as molecular machines to power our organs, regulate temperature and repair damage. Working separately, the Nobel trio were among the first to replicate this kind of function in synthetic molecules, by working out how to convert chemical energy into mechanical motion. This allowed them to construct molecular devices a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair, including switches, motors, shuttles and even something resembling a motorcar. The advances have allowed scientists to develop materials that will reconfigure and adapt by themselves depending on their environment -- for instance contracting with heat, or opening up to deliver drugs when they arrive at a target site in the body.
Biotech

Theranos To Shut Down Its Blood-Testing Facilities, Shrink Workforce By 40% (wsj.com) 66

tripleevenfall quotes a report from The Wall Street Journal: Theranos Inc. said it will shut down its blood-testing facilities and shrink its workforce by more than 40% (Warning: may be paywalled; alternate source). The company said it had 790 full-time employees as of August 1. The moves mark a dramatic retreat by the Palo Alto, Calif., company and founder Elizabeth Holmes from their core strategy of offering a long menu of low-price blood tests directly to consumers. Those ambitions already were endangered by crippling regulatory sanctions that followed revelations by The Wall Street Journal of shortcomings in Theranos's technology and operations. Theranos later voided all results from its proprietary device for 2014 and 2015, though the company said it wasn't aware of any patient harm resulting form its tests. Ms. Holmes said in a statement: "We will return our undivided attention to our miniLab platform. Our ultimate goal is to commercialize miniaturized, automated laboratories capable of small-volume sample testing, with an emphasis on vulnerable patient populations, including oncology, pediatrics, and intensive care."
Medicine

Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan Wins Nobel Prize In Medicine For Study of Cell Recycling (theguardian.com) 15

Dave Knott writes from a report via The Guardian: The 2016 Nobel prize in medicine has been awarded to Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi for discoveries on how cells break down and recycle their own components. Ohsumi uncovered "mechanisms for autophagy," a fundamental process in cells that scientists believe can be harnessed to fight cancer and dementia. Autophagy is the body's internal recycling program -- scrap cell components are captured and the useful parts are stripped out to generate energy or build new cells. The process is crucial for preventing cancerous growths, warding off infection and, by maintaining a healthy metabolism, it helps protect against conditions like diabetes. The report adds: "[Ohsumi] said he chose to focus on the cell's waste disposal system, an unfashionable subject at the time, because he wanted to work on something different. By studying the process in yeast cells, Ohsumi identified the main genes involved in autophagy and showed how the proteins they code for come together to build the autophagosome membrane. He later showed that a similar cellular recycling process occurs in human cells -- and that our cells would not survive without it."

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