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Scientific Breakthrough Increases Plant Yields By One Third ( 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.


'Nano-Machines' Win European Trio Chemistry Nobel Prize ( 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.

Theranos To Shut Down Its Blood-Testing Facilities, Shrink Workforce By 40% ( 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."

Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan Wins Nobel Prize In Medicine For Study of Cell Recycling ( 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."

Feds Go After Mylan For Scamming Medicaid Out of Millions On EpiPen Pricing ( 198

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Over the nine or so years that Mylan, Inc. has been selling -- and hiking the price -- of EpiPens, the drug company has been misclassifying the life-saving device and stiffing Medicaid out of full rebate payments, federal regulators told Ars. Under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program, drug manufacturers, such as Mylan, can get their products covered by Medicaid if they agree to offer rebates to the government to offset costs. With a brand-name drug such as the EpiPen, which currently has no generic versions and has patent protection, Mylan was supposed to classify the drug as a "single source," or brand name drug. That would mean Mylan is required to offer Medicaid a rebate of 23.1 percent of the costs, plus an "inflation rebate" any time Mylan raises the price of the brand-name drug at a rate higher than inflation. Mylan has opted for such price increases -- a lot. Since Mylan bought the rights to EpiPen in 2007, it has raised the price on 15 separate occasions, bringing the current list price to $608 for a two-pack up from about $50 a pen in 2007. That's an increase of more than 500 percent, which easily beats inflation. But instead of classifying EpiPen as a "single source" drug, Mylan told regulators that it's a "non-innovator multiple source," or generic drug. Under that classification, Mylan is only required to offer a rebate of 13 percent and no inflation rebates. It's unclear how much money Mylan has skipped out on paying in total to state and federal governments. But according to the state health department of Minnesota, as reported by CNBC, the misclassification cost that state $4.3 million this year alone.

Microsoft Will 'Solve' Cancer Within The Next 10 Years By Treating It Like A Computer Virus, Says Company ( 259

Microsoft is serious about finding a cure for cancer. In June, Microsoft researchers published a paper that shows how analyzing online activities can provide clues as to a person's chances of having cancer. They were able to identify internet users who had pancreatic cancer even before they'd been diagnosed, all from analyzing web query logs. Several months later, researchers on behalf of the company now say they will "solve" cancer within the next 10 years by treating it like a computer virus that invades and corrupts the body's cells. The goal is to monitor the bad cells and potentially reprogram them to be healthy again. The Independent reports: The company has built a "biological computation" unit that says its ultimate aim is to make cells into living computers. As such, they could be programmed and reprogrammed to treat any diseases, such as cancer. In the nearer term, the unit is using advanced computing research to try and set computers to work learning about drugs and diseases and suggesting new treatments to help cancer patients. The team hopes to be able to use machine learning technologies -- computers that can think and learn like humans -- to read through the huge amounts of cancer research and come to understand the disease and the drugs that treat it. At the moment, so much cancer research is published that it is impossible for any doctor to read it all. But since computers can read and understand so much more quickly, the systems will be able to read through all of the research and then put that to work on specific people's situations. It does that by bringing together biology, math and computing. Microsoft says the solution could be with us within the next five or ten years.

Vanity Fair Blames The Failure of Theranos On Silicon Valley ( 128

"I was only a day or two behind FBI agents who were trying to put together a time line of what Elizabeh Holmes knew and when she knew it," writes Vanity Fair, in what Slashdot reader PvtVoid describes as "a compelling story of hubris, glamour and secrecy about the unicorn Silicon Valley company that turned out to be founded on bullshit." Another anonymous Slashdot reader writes: Holmes raised $700 million "on the condition that she would not divulge to investors how her technology actually worked," according to an article detailing how Silicon Valley can "replicate one big confidence game in which entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and the tech media pretend to vet one another while, in reality, functioning as cogs in a machine that is designed to not question anything -- and buoy one another all along the way... In the end, it isn't in anyone's interest to call bullshit."

Theranos employed "hundreds of marketers, salespeople, communications specialists, and even the Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris," as well as a chief scientist who eventually became suicidal. But then the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services "discovered that some of the tests Theranos was performing were so inaccurate that they could leave patients at risk of internal bleeding, or of stroke among those prone to blood clots." A reporter at the Wall Street Journal says "It's O.K. if you've got a smartphone app or a social network, and you go live with it before it's ready; people aren't going to die. But with medicine, it's different."

He became suspicious after reading the answer that the company's CEO, a Stanford dropout, supplied for a question about their technology. "A chemistry is performed so that a chemical reaction occurs and generates a signal from the chemical interaction with the sample, which is translated into a result, which is then reviewed by certified laboratory personnel."

Ask Slashdot: Why Aren't Techies Improving The World? 537

Slashdot reader marmot7 isn't impressed by "the latest app that solves some made up problem. I'm impressed by apps that solve real problems..." I don't feel that developers, sys admins, finance people, even policy wonks focus on the problems that we need to solve to have a healthy functioning society. It seems like it's mostly about short-term gain and not much about making the world better. That may be just the way the market works.

Is it that there's no profit to be made in solving the most important problems? I'm puzzled by that as I would think that a good solution to an important problem could find some funding from somewhere but maybe government, for example, won't take investment risks in that way?

Is there a systematic bias that channels technology workers into more profitable careers? (Or stunning counter-examples that show technology workers are making the world a better place?) Leave your answers in the comments. Why aren't geeks doing more to improve the world?

Should We Seed Life On Alien Worlds? ( 231

Slashdot reader sciencehabit quotes an article from Science magazine: Astronomers have detected more than 3000 planets beyond our solar system, and just a couple of weeks ago they discovered an Earth-like planet in the solar system next door. Most -- if not all -- of these worlds are unlikely to harbor life, but what if we put it there?

Science chatted with theoretical physicist Claudius Gros about his proposed Genesis Project, which would send artificially intelligent probes to lifeless worlds to seed them with microbes. Over millions of years, they might evolve into multicellular organisms, and, perhaps eventually, plants and animals. In the interview, Gros talks artificial intelligence, searching for habitable planets, and what kind of organisms he'd like to see evolve.

"The robots will have to decide if a certain planet should receive microbes and the chance to evolve life," the physicist explains -- adding that it's very important to avoid introducing new microbes on planets where life already exists.

Video Shows How Bacteria Invade Antibiotics And Transform Into Superbugs ( 87

guises writes: By making a giant petri dish out of bands of increasingly antibiotic-laced agar, a couple of microbiologists have created a means to watch bacterial evolution as it happens: colonies introduced to the dish expand to fill the areas in which they can survive and then mutate and spread into the areas in which they can not. It takes only eleven days for the bacteria to evolve sufficient resistance to survive in an area with a thousand times the concentration of antibiotics that would have killed the original colonies. And it makes a pretty neat video.

Should We Kill All The Mosquitoes? ( 470

If scientists could send Zika-carrying mosquitoes into extinction, should they do it? Several science and business journals are now exploring the question, and Slashdot reader retroworks asks if scientists will ultimately target "not just the most deadly species of the animal, but all 12 species of human-biting mosquitoes in the world, responsible for 500,000 deaths per year." The headline on today's [paywalled] Wall Street Journal article begs the question, "Why Not Kill Them All...?" [M]ore business journals are exploring private sector investments to eradicate the species of mosquito entirely, [and] most articles seem to find extinction of the indoors-attacking, dengue fever- and malaria-spreading Aedes aegypti a tantalizing prospect...

The BBC weighed the approach more carefully, noting that mosquitoes make rain forests uninhabitable (and consequences of human populations in rain forests are usually disastrous)... Will capitalism make the itch of mosquito bites be forgotten... Forever?


Brain-Zapping Gadgets Need Regulation, Say Scientists ( 51

the_newsbeagle writes: You can now buy gadgets online that send electric current through your scalp to stimulate your brain. Why would you want to do that? Because the easy technique, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), is being investigated as a treatment for depression, a rehab aid for stroke patients, a learning enhancer for healthy people, and for many other neuropsychiatric applications.

However, the technique is so new that companies selling brain-zapping gadgets aren't bound by any regulations, and experts are worried that consumers will end up buying devices that aren't safe or simply aren't effective. So scientists and some manufacturers recently got together to discuss the scope of the problem, and what can be done about it.

Earlier IEEE reported that "Professional basketball, baseball, and American football teams are also experimenting with it," adding that some Olympic athletes, including sprinters and swimmers, even used a premarket version of one brain-zapping device to prepare for the Olympics in Rio.

FDA Bans 19 Chemicals Used In Antibacterial Soaps ( 248

The Food and Drug Administration has ordered "antibacterial" ingredients to be removed from consumer soaps, citing a lack of evidence that they are effective in making soap work any better and that the industry has failed to prove they're safe. The banned chemicals include triclosan, triclocarban and 17 others (PDF) typically found in hand and body soaps. Companies have until late next year to remove the ingredients from their products, the FDA said. "Companies will no longer be able to market antibacterial washes with these ingredients because manufacturers did not demonstrate that the ingredients are both safe for long-term daily use and more effective than plain soap and water in preventing illness and the spread of certain infections," the FDA said in a statement. NBC News reports: "In 2013 FDA gave soapmakers a year to show that adding antibacterial chemicals did anything at all to help them kill germs. It made the rule final Friday. The FDA started asking about triclosan in 1978. Environmental groups and some members of Congress have been calling for limits on the use of triclosan. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued and the FDA agreed to do something about triclosan by 2016. There's no proof that triclosan is dangerous to people, but some animal studies suggest high doses can affect the way hormones work in the body. The proposed rule only affects hand soaps and body washes. Triclosan is often used in toothpaste and it's been shown to help kill germs that cause gum disease."

'Longest Living Human' Says He Is Ready For Death At 145 ( 314

Slashdot reader schwit1 quotes an article from The Telegraph: An Indonesian man who claims to be the longest living human in recorded history has described how he "just wants to die". Mbah Gotho, from Sragen in central Java, was born on December 31, 1870, according to the date of birth on his identity card. Now officials at the local record office say they have finally been able to confirm that remarkable date as genuine. If independently confirmed, the findings would make Mr Gotho a staggering 145 years old -- and the longest lived human in recorded history.
"One of Mr Gotho's grandsons said his grandfather has been preparing for his death ever since he was 122," according to the article. Though he lived long enough to meet his great-great grandchildren, he's already outlived four wives, all 10 of his brothers and sisters, and all of his children.

US Patients Battle EpiPen Prices And Regulations By Shopping Online ( 396

"The incredible increase in the cost of EpiPens, auto-injectors that can stop life-threatening emergencies caused by allergic reactions, has hit home on Capitol Hill," reports CNN. Slashdot reader Applehu Akbar reports that the argument "has now turned into civil war in the US Senate": One senator's daughter relies on Epi-Pen, while another senator's daughter is CEO of Mylan, the single company that is licensed to sell these injectors in the US. On the worldwide market there is no monopoly on these devices... Is it finally time to allow Americans to go online and fill their prescriptions on the world market?
Time reports some patients are ordering cheaper EpiPens from Canada and other countries online, "an act that the FDA says is technically illegal and potentially dangerous." But the FDA also has "a backlog of about 4,000 generic drugs" awaiting FDA approval, reports PRI, noting that in the meantime prices have also increased for drugs treating cancer, hepatitis C, and high cholesterol. In Australia, where the drug costs just $38, one news outlet reports that the U.S. "is the only developed nation on Earth which allows pharmaceutical companies to set their own prices."

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