Some Bacteria are Sneakier Than First Suspected

Posted September 9th, 2014 at 7:59 pm (UTC+0)
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This image shows two strains of E. coli bacteria (wild-type and GASP) competing with each other as they grow out on a flat surface. The wild-type bacteria appear green on the surface while the GASP bacteria appear red. (Robert Austin/Princeton University)

This image shows two strains of E. coli bacteria (wild-type and GASP) competing with each other as they grow out on a flat surface. The wild-type bacteria appear green on the surface while the GASP bacteria appear red. (Robert Austin/Princeton University)

The emergence and rapid growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria has become a serious worldwide health concern.

The World Health Organization said in its 2014 report on antimicrobial resistance that “without urgent, coordinated action, the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries, which have been treatable for decades, can once again kill.”

Scientists have found that some infection causing bacteria can quickly evolve and mutate to a point where antibiotics that were created to destroy it become ineffective. But now a team of researchers from three American universities have found that these mutating microbes can be sneakier that had been suspected.

The researchers, writing in the journal Biomicrofluidics, found that among the tools used by bacteria to avoid harm or destruction is a built-in arsenal of hidden genetic weapons that helps it develop a number of different ways to evolve and mutate quickly while under stress due to antibiotic treatments, making the microbes much more adaptable and tougher to beat.

An electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped (USDA)

An electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped (USDA)

“Bacteria are clever – they have hidden ways to respond to stress that involve re-sculpting their genomes,” said Princeton University biophysicist and team leader, Robert Austin in a press release.  “It teaches us that antibiotics have to be used much more carefully than they have been up to this point,” he said.

Rather than using traditional test tubes or petri dishes, the researchers used unique fluid-filled microstructures in their experiments that were developed by Austin and his colleagues.  The research team said that they think their new devices represented a more natural environment for their investigations than traditional laboratory implements.

“In complex environments the emergence of resistance can be far more rapid and profound than would be expected from test tube experiments,” Austin said.

In previous studies, the researchers found that there are some “wild type” or non-mutated forms of Escherichia coli (E-coli) bacteria that can quickly evolve and develop a resistance to antibiotics.

So the team wondered if a mutated strain of E-coli, called GASP, would have the same type of antibiotic resistance as the “wild type” strain if it were exposed to the same drug.

Ciprofloxacin tablets (AJ Cann via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Ciprofloxacin tablets (AJ Cann via Flickr/Creative Commons)

To find out, the researchers sequenced the genomes of both “wild type” and the mutated GASP strains of E-coli bacteria that had been exposed to ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic medication known commonly as Cipro. The sequencing experiments showed that although the strains of the E-coli used different methods of genetic mutation, they all were able to develop comparable levels of antibiotic resistance.

Austin said that the research his team conducted revealed the wide range of tools bacteria can use to overcome stress and develop antibiotic resistance.

He also wondered about the effectiveness of other commonly used methods for killing potentially harmful microbes, such as using alcohol to sanitize germ ridden surfaces, and if bacteria would be able to develop a resistance to them as well.

Austin and his team are planning further tests.

ESA’s Rosetta Probe Gets Close to Duck-Shaped Comet 67P/C-K

Posted September 5th, 2014 at 8:33 pm (UTC+0)
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This animation comprises 101 images acquired by the Navigation Camera on board ESA's Rosetta spacecraft as it approached comet 67P/C-G in August 2014. The first image was taken on 1 August at 11:07 UTC at a distance of 832 km. The last image was taken 6 August at 06:07 UTC at a distance of 110 km. ((c) ESA/Rosetta/Navcam)

This animation comprises 101 images acquired by the Navigation Camera on board ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft as it approached comet 67P/C-G in August 2014. The first image was taken on 1 August at 11:07 UTC at a distance of 832 km. The last image was taken 6 August at 06:07 UTC at a distance of 110 km. ((c) ESA/Rosetta/Navcam)

Back on Aug. 6 the European Space Agency‘s unmanned space probe Rosetta completed its decade long journey across space to meet up with its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, making it the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet.

As the spacecraft neared its target, it took some close-up photos of the comet with its two camera Navigation Camera system (NAVCAM).

After examining the images, members of the Rosetta team at ESA couldn’t help but notice that Comet 67P/C-G appeared to be a very oddly shaped object.  Its peculiar shape led them to nickname the comet the “rubber duck”.

As they continue to study Comet 67P/C-G, the scientists are looking to get a better understanding of its surface properties.

Mark McCaughrean, ESA’s Senior Science Advisor thinks that there should be a number of craters on the comet’s surface. If so, scientists would like to know how they were formed. Are they impact craters from being hit by various objects or could they be the result of residue left by materials that burst out from inside the comet?

Rosetta is now traveling in front of the comet at an average speed of about one meter per second said McCaughrean.

The spacecraft is now only about 50 kilometers away from Comet 67P/C-G, which is about 450,000,000 kilometers from the sun.

The Rosetta team is planning to place the spacecraft in orbit around the comet in a couple of weeks where it’ll stay for the remainder of its planned mission.

McCaughrean said that once Rosetta is in orbit it will do so at an average distance of about 30 kilometers.

Artist impression of ESA's Rosetta approaching comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ((c) Spacecraft- ESA/ATG Medialab/Comet - ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Artist impression of ESA’s Rosetta approaching comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. ((c) Spacecraft- ESA/ATG Medialab/Comet – ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

The team is planning to occasionally lower the spacecraft’s orbit to about 10 kilometers above the comet’s surface or possibly even lower when the Rosetta’s attached Philae lander is deployed in November.

But before deciding to drop Rosetta to a lower altitude McCaughrean said that the team will need to consider the comet’s activity, such as how much gas and dust is flowing way from it.

Along with getting the spacecraft ready to orbit the comet, scientists have been quite busy trying to find an ideal landing spot for the Philae lander.

They have selected a number of possible landing sites and ESA is expected to announce the primary and back-up landing sites on September 15.

McCaughrean described the ideal landing site for Philae as one that would be about one square kilometer in size and able to provide enough sunlight to charge the probe’s battery.

Since the comet’s gravity is so low, the probe will most likely bounce when it first touches down, so ESA engineers have equipped it with two harpoons and some ice screws to keep the probe steady and attached to 67P/C-G’s surface.

While the Rosetta spacecraft is the mission’s most powerful machine and will be doing most of the work, the Philae lander, since it will actually be on the surface of the comet, will be able to do things that Rosetta can’t.

Artist’s impression of Rosetta’s lander Philae on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae will be deployed to the comet in November 2014. ((c) ESA/ATG Medialab)

Artist’s impression of Rosetta’s lander Philae on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae will be deployed to the comet in November 2014. ((c) ESA/ATG Medialab)

One of the first tasks assigned to Philae is to take a 360° panorama of its location.

It will use its onboard microscopes to get a closer look at the surface.  Then it will drill about 25 centimeters into the comet to pull material up for analysis by Philae’s small laboratory so scientists can learn more about what makes up Comet 67P/C-G.

“We’re learning a huge amount (about the comet), but there’s still a huge amount to be learned in the next four years we sit next to this comet as it evolves,” said McCaughrean.

You can listen to the Science World radio interview with Mark McCaughrean either through the player below or check out the entire show at the times and places listed in the right side column.

3D Printer in Space, Antibiotic Laced Pesticides May Trigger Allergies, Milky Way a Member of the Laniakea Supercluster, Drink Responsibly Messages, Reducing E-Waste

Posted September 3rd, 2014 at 7:52 pm (UTC+0)
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3-D printer that will soon be delivered to the International Space Station. Items the 3-D printer created is perched on its top side. (NASA)

3-D printer that will soon be delivered to the International Space Station. Items the 3-D printer created is perched on its top side. (NASA)

NASA Hopes 3D Printer Technology Will Prove Useful in Space Voyages

NASA is taking its first step to see if it could someday create the first machine shop in outer space.

On its resupply mission that should launch sometime after September 19th, the SpaceX-4 will be delivering the first 3D printer to fly in space to the International Space Station.

The 3D printer is specially designed to operate in the micro-gravity environment of the space station.

The space agency is hoping that the 3D printer will operate properly and be able to create various items just as well in space as it does on the ground.

If the 3D printing experiment is successful, NASA says that the technology could someday help space travelers on missions into deep space produce critically needed tools or replacement parts.

Being able to create these items as they journey in space will allow mission crews to not only be more self-sufficient, but could also save space and lighten the weight of the spacecraft instead of having to store a supply of goods that may or may not be needed over the course of a mission.

 

A cornucopia of fruit and vegetables (Jina Lee via Wikipedia Commons)

A cornucopia of fruit and vegetables (Jina Lee via Wikipedia Commons)

Fruits and Vegetables Treated with Antibiotic Laced Pesticides Could Trigger Allergic Reaction in Some

Even if you don’t have any food allergies, scientists have found that danger just might be lurking in the fruits and vegetables you eat.

According to an article published in the September issue of the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, if you’re allergic to antibiotics such as streptomycin, it could be possible to develop an allergic reaction due to a residue of antibiotics that remains in these foods.

Scientists studied a 10 year-old girl who suffered from a severe allergic reaction after eating blueberry pie despite it being free of any ingredients she is normally allergic to.

After some intensive testing of the young girl and a sample of the pie, the researchers were able to trace her allergic reaction to a streptomycin-tainted blueberry.  It turns out that this antibiotic, which is often prescribed to treat various infections in humans, is also used as an ingredient in a pesticide that fights the growth of bacteria, fungi and algae in fruit.

 

This artist's concept illustrates the new view of the Milky Way. Scientists have discovered that the Milky Way's elegant spiral structure is dominated by just two arms wrapping off the ends of a central bar of stars. Previously, our galaxy was thought to possess four major arms. (Image: NASA)

This artist’s concept of the Milky Way. (NASA)

Milky Way Found to be Part of the Laniakea Supercluster of Galaxies

Most of us already know that our solar system resides in the Milky Way galaxy.  But did you know that our galaxy is part of a supercluster containing other galaxies?

Scientists have found that rather than being randomly strewn throughout the universe, galaxies tend to be grouped in these superclusters and linked together by a network of filaments.

The international team of astronomers who recently outlined the contours of this vast supercluster also came up with a name for this gathering of galaxies: “Laniakea”, which in Hawaiian means “immense heaven”.

Their findings are outlined in an article that appears in the September 4th edition of the journal Nature.

 

A shot of whiskey (David Levinson via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A shot of whiskey (David Levinson via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Study: Drink Responsibly Messages in Liquor Ads Promote Product Not Public Health

You may have seen advertisements on TV and in magazines for various liquor products, and, at least here in the United States, most of the ads contain reminder messages to consumers such as “drink responsibly” or “enjoy in moderation”.

But a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the September issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol indicates that these “reminder messages” do more to promote the alcoholic product rather than deliver fundamental public health information regarding the use or abuse of alcohol.

After analyzing a number of U.S. advertisements for various alcoholic beverages that appeared in U.S. magazines from 2008 to 2010, the researchers found that these advertiser messages also need to spell out what is considered to be responsible drinking and provide clear and specific warnings to the consumer about the risks that are linked to alcohol consumption.

The researchers also indicated that their analysis of the ads containing the “responsibility messages” revealed that 88 percent of the messages wound up reinforcing the promotion of the advertised product, with many of the messages actually contradicting the visual images that were displayed in the ads.

 

Stemming the Tide of E-Waste

The E-waste centre of Agbogbloshie, Ghana, where electronic waste is burnt and disassembled with no safety or environmental considerations. (Marlenenapoli via Wikimedia Commons)

The E-waste centre of Agbogbloshie, Ghana, where electronic waste is burnt and disassembled with no safety or environmental considerations. (Marlenenapoli via Wikimedia Commons)

An article published in the American Chemical Society journal Chemical and Engineering News, notes that people around the world purchase more than 1.8 billion new mobile phones per year, with many replacing older models that wind up as e-waste instead of being recycled or reused.

Precious metals such as gold and silver, which are used to manufacture cellphones that are sold this year alone are said to be worth more than $2.5 billion, according the article.

The author offered suggestions he felt would cut down on the amount of e-waste that’s rapidly accumulating throughout the world.

Among them is to make cell phones with easily replaceable modules that allow the user to replace the worn out or broken internal elements while being able keep the remainder of the phone intact.

Another suggests that the recycling process itself be upgraded to be more efficient and environmentally friendly, allowing for the recovery of a greater number of elements.

However, the article points out that consumers themselves are the key to cutting down the amount of e-waste. Instead of simply tossing aside their used electronic equipment people should consider and embrace the idea of recycling these products.

Science Images of the Week

Posted August 29th, 2014 at 6:55 pm (UTC+0)
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Here’s a photo of Pacific Hurricane Marie that was taken from the International Space Station by astronaut/crewmember Reid Wiseman on August 26, 2014.  Officials said that enormous waves stirred up by Marie caused extensive damage to picturesque Catalina Island that’s located just off the coast of Southern California.  (NASA)

Here’s a photo of Pacific Hurricane Marie taken from the International Space Station by astronaut/crew member Reid Wiseman on August 26, 2014. Officials said that enormous waves stirred up by Marie caused extensive damage to picturesque Catalina Island that’s located just off the coast of Southern California. (NASA)

Several volcanoes around the world have become active recently.  Among them is Iceland’s Bardabunga Volcano.  Here steam and smoke are shown rising above a lava field fissure that’s part of the Bardabunga Volcano system on August 29, 2014.  (Reuters)

Several volcanoes around the world became active recently. Among them is Iceland’s Bardabunga Volcano. Here steam and smoke are shown rising above a lava field fissure that’s part of the Bardabunga Volcano system on August 29, 2014. (Reuters)

Here’s another of this week’s active volcanoes.  This is Ecuador's Tungurahua, or “Throat of Fire”, volcano as it erupts on August 24, 2014. (Reuters)

Here’s another of this week’s active volcanoes. This is Ecuador’s Tungurahua, or “Throat of Fire”, volcano as it erupts on August 24, 2014. (Reuters)

The Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets have become quite a popular feature at recent technology shows and conferences.  Here South Korean children enjoy a virtual reality experience at SK Telecom's "T.um mobile", a hands-on experience center that recently opened in Seoul South Korea. (AP)

Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets have become quite a popular feature at recent technology shows and conferences. Here South Korean children enjoy a virtual reality experience at SK Telecom’s “T.um mobile”, a hands-on experience center that recently opened in Seoul South Korea. (AP)

The sun recently let loose with a burst of radiation in this M5 class or mid-level solar flare that peaked at 1216 UTC, on August 24, 2014.  This image was taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).  The M class of solar flares is about ten times less powerful than the most powerful flares, called X-class flares. (NASA/SDO)

The sun recently let loose with a burst of radiation in this M5 class or mid-level solar flare (left) that peaked at 1216 UTC, on August 24, 2014. This image was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The M class of solar flares is about ten times less powerful than the most powerful flares, called X-class flares. (NASA/SDO)

A 5-percent scale model of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is ignited for a test at the space agency’s Marshal Space Flight Center in Alabama on August 28, 2014.  NASA engineers are using these tests to better understand just how loud the SLS vehicle will be during liftoff.  Data gathered from the tests will help the engineers design a water sound suppression system that reduces liftoff vibrations on the vehicle. (NASA)

A 5-percent scale model of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is ignited for a test at the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama on August 28, 2014. NASA engineers are using these tests to better understand just how loud the SLS vehicle will be during liftoff. Data gathered from the tests will help the engineers design a water sound suppression system that reduces liftoff vibrations on the vehicle. (NASA)

Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea after they were released near Tyre, Lebanon on August 28, 2014 by members of the Orange House conservation project.   The Orange House Project’s mission is to protect and conserve sea turtles in South Lebanon. (Reuters)

Baby sea turtles crawl to the sea after they were released near Tyre, Lebanon on August 28, 2014 by members of the Orange House conservation project. The Orange House Project’s mission is to protect and conserve sea turtles in South Lebanon. (Reuters)

NASA and the European Space Agency released this image on August 25, 2014, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that shows a star, known as SSTC2D J033038.2+303212, in its early stages of life being flanked by a dark nebula called Dobashi 4173. (© ESA/NASA)

NASA and the European Space Agency released this image on August 25, 2014, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that shows a star, known as SSTC2D J033038.2+303212, in its early stages of life being flanked by a dark nebula called Dobashi 4173. (© ESA/NASA)

White clouds swirling above blue ocean waters form an interesting pattern.  This August 28, 2014 photo was taken from the International Space Station by ESA astronaut, and crewmember Alexander Gerst.  (© ESA/NASA)

White clouds swirling above blue ocean waters form an interesting pattern. This August 28, 2014 photo was taken from the International Space Station by ESA astronaut, and crew member Alexander Gerst. (© ESA/NASA)

Are We Real or Holograms?, Fortified Seasonings Fight Nutrient Deficiencies, Send Cancer Cells into Space for Radiation Study, Does Marijuana Use Reduce Domestic Violence?

Posted August 27th, 2014 at 7:45 pm (UTC+0)
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A holographic nurse at the University College London Hospital (Charles Hutchins via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Holographic nurse  (Charles Hutchins via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Are We All Real or Are We Just Holograms?

Most, if not all of us, think of ourselves as real, living and breathing people, actual 3D physical objects.  But according to quantum physics, all of us and our entire world and universe could, in reality, just be a simple 2D hologram, a kind of optical illusion.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory wants to find out if we’re really holograms, as well as seek out answers to other perplexing mysteries of the universe, so they’ve cranked on their Holometer – a sophisticated piece of equipment that studies the “quantum character of space” – and have begun gathering necessary data for study and experimentation.

 

A restaurant displays its variety of condiments (Alpha via Flickr/Creative Commons)

A restaurant displays its variety of condiments (Alpha via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Fortifying Condiments and Seasonings Could Reduce Micronutrient Deficiencies Say Scientists

Scientists at the University of Illinois are working on a unique approach they think will help treat micronutrient deficiencies found to be widespread in some countries.

The Illinois researchers are looking at ways to fortify various condiments and seasonings with micronutrients as part of an effort by the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight these deficiencies.

The researchers said that the health and cognitive development of at least 33% of the world’s population suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.  They also found that since most of the people in the affected areas regularly use condiments, such as soy sauce or other seasonings, fortifying them could provide a great way to correct these nutritional deficiencies.

 

Fluorescent microscopic view of bone cancer cells (© ESA-Yassen Abbas)

Fluorescent microscopic view of bone cancer cells (© ESA-Yassen Abbas)

ESA Trainee Wants to Send Cancer Samples into Space

There are a number of scientists and even lay people who would like to send humans on missions to Mars or further into deep space.  Both are goals that have been talked about for a long time and lately have been getting plenty of attention from governmental space agencies and even some private companies.

But while the science and technology needed to accomplish these bold missions are being developed, there are still a number of serious issues that must first be addressed before spacecraft are launched to a destination so far away.

Among the biggest challenges facing scientists researching deep space missions is the problem of protecting the space travelers from incredibly high doses of radiation, not only from the sun but also from cosmic rays that originate in the far reaches of space.

To better understand how radiation particles can affect human DNA and trigger cancer, Yassen Abbas, a graduate trainee with the European Space Agency’s Life, Physical Science and Life Support Laboratory is proposing a mission that would send samples of osteosarcoma cells, a type of bone cancer, into space beyond the protection of Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere.

Cameras and related equipment onboard a spacecraft that carry the cells would be used to study how the cells are damaged by the radiation and how any genetic damage can be repaired in real time.

 

(Oren neu dag via Wikimedia Commons)

(Oren neu dag via Wikimedia Commons)

Study: Marijuana Use among Couples May Reduce Incidents of Domestic Violence

Could the smoking of marijuana help reduce domestic violence?  That just might be the case, according to some new findings from research conducted by scientists at the University Of Buffalo School Of Public Health and Health Professions and the Research Institute on Addition.

The researchers studied 634 couples over the course of the first nine years of marriage and found that the more often they smoked marijuana, the less likely they were to become involved incidents of domestic violence.

The researchers said that that further research into the link of marijuana use and the likelihood of domestic violence is needed before any stronger conclusions could be made.

Cornell’s ‘Robo Brain’ Helps Robots Learn

Posted August 25th, 2014 at 7:55 pm (UTC+0)
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A robot reading (DARPA via Wikimedia Commons)

A robot reading (DARPA via Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers at Cornell University are developing “Robo Brain”, a knowledgebase/database that could be an invaluable resource for those who build and program robots.

To get them to operate and carry out their assigned tasks – which could range from simple household chores to bomb detection or even performing surgery – robots are programmed with specific instructions.

Right now, that programming can be a very time consuming and tedious process that involves teaching the robot one function or action at a time, each of which could require a number of steps to get the machine to properly process and perform that function.

For example, robots built to assist people with daily chores also need to have a good understanding of various elements of a human’s environment and behavior.

The developers of this system say that Robo Brain will provide robot builders/programmers with both in one package.

Right now, Robo Brain is in the process of building its knowledge/data library by grabbing about 1 billion images, 120,000 YouTube videos, and 100 million how-to documents and appliance manuals that are being downloaded from publicly available Internet resources and websites.

Once material is downloaded from the internet, it’s translated into a form that robots can understand and then saved and stored in a location that robots can easily access when the information is needed.

Data used by Robo Brain system is also augmented by information from a number of related computer simulations as well as real-life robot trials.

Part of the system’s processing is to pick out various objects in the images and videos it downloads.  It then connects those objects to related text so that robots can learn not only how to recognize the objects, but also how the objects are used as well as related human aspects, such as language or behavior.

The researchers explain, as an example, if a robot sees a coffee mug with its built-in cameras or sensors, Robo Brain will provide it not only with the information that object is indeed a coffee mug, but also will provide a number of functional details.   These details could include that that liquids – hot or cold – can be poured in or out of it, that it can be grasped by the handle, and that it must be carried upright when it is full, as opposed to when it is being carried from a dishwasher to a cupboard.

The 'Robo Brain' Team (Cornell University)

The ‘Robo Brain’ Team (Cornell University)

“Our laptops and cell phones have access to all the information we want. If a robot encounters a situation it hasn’t seen before it can query Robo Brain in the cloud,” said one of the system’s developers, Ashutosh Saxena, an assistant professor of computer science at Cornell University in a university press release.

While programmers will still need to use current software platforms such as Robot Operating System or Robot Web Tools to actually program the robots, they’ll be able access needed material and data from Robo Brain via special software known as an application programming interface, or API.

Robo Brain’s developers use a system computer called structured “deep learning,” which is a sophisticated set of machine-learning algorithms, to help teach robots. Saxena tells us in an e-mail, “There are two challenges in learning representations from the different knowledge sources and data. First, there are several layers of abstractions that must be learned, e.g., going from raw pixels in the images to meaningful concepts such as an object.  Or going from raw sensor data to where a robot can grasp an object.  We use deep learning for this.  Second, one needs to capture the structure in the knowledge such as how two objects are related in physical or semantic space.”

Robo Brain’s large-scale database was designed by Aditya Jami, a visiting researcher at Cornell.  He said to think of his creation as something that could look like a table of relationships between Facebook friends, only think of it on the scale of the Milky Way Galaxy.

“One … advantage in this system is its ability to crowdsource the learning via people.  At Robo Brain page, we are showing the current learned concepts by the Robo Brain, and millions of people in the world can give feedback,” said Saxena.  “This help guides the learning of the Robo Brain, helping it correct its mistakes in learning.”

Right now, according to Saxena, while Robo Brain is an open-source effort, it’s only available and open to their university collaborators at Cornell, Stanford, Brown University, and University of California Berkeley.  The developers hope to open Robo Brain to more institutions in a few months, and then after a year of development, it will be offered to everyone.

Ashutosh Saxena Talks About ‘Robo Brain’ at 2014 Robotics: Science and Systems Conference

Science Images of the Week

Posted August 22nd, 2014 at 7:56 pm (UTC+0)
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Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station is shown here conducting extravehicular activity (EVA).  Artemyev and fellow cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov conducted a little space station maintenance, deployed a small science satellite, and installed experiment packages.  The spacewalking cosmonauts also inspected components on the space station’s exterior. (NASA)

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station conducts extravehicular activity (EVA). Artemyev and fellow cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov conducted a little space station maintenance, deployed a small science satellite, and installed experiment packages. The spacewalking cosmonauts also inspected components on the space station’s exterior. (NASA)

Here’s our weekly “aww isn’t that cute” photo. These are newborn giant panda triplets inside an incubator at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on August 17, 2014.  The giant panda Juxiao is mother of this trio of cubs.  The triplets were born with the help of artificial insemination procedures. (Reuters)

Here’s our weekly “aww isn’t that cute” photo. These are newborn giant panda triplets inside an incubator at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, China, on August 17, 2014. The giant panda Juxiao is mother of this trio of cubs. The triplets were born with the help of artificial insemination procedures. (Reuters)

No, this is not a scene from the Wizard of Oz.  But, snapshot of a tornado as it nears the Italian city of Genoa, Aug 19, 2014. If you look carefully on the right and in background you should see the profile of the Costa Concordia cruise liner wreck which was towed to Genoa for scrapping. (AP)

No, this is not a scene from the Wizard of Oz. It’s a snapshot of a tornado as it nears the Italian city of Genoa, August 19, 2014. If you look carefully on the right and in background you should see the profile of the Costa Concordia cruise liner wreck which was towed to Genoa for scrapping. (AP)

The European Space Agency sent Europe’s fifth and sixth Galileo satellites into space. The two spacecraft were launched aboard Soyuz Flight VS09, from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, on August 22, 2014.  The Galileo satellites will be part of a global navigation satellite system that’s being built by the European Union and ESA. (© ESA)

The European Space Agency sent Europe’s fifth and sixth Galileo satellites into space. The two spacecraft were launched aboard Soyuz Flight VS09, from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, on August 22, 2014. The Galileo satellites will be part of a global navigation satellite system that’s being built by the European Union and ESA. (© ESA)

A student of archeology uses her trowel to remove dirt from an ancient mosaic floor that was discovered at an excavation site in Kosovo’s ancient city of Ulpiana, on August, 21, 2014.  The archeologists exploring the site have discovered a baptistery that they believe to dates back to the 4th century AD. (AP)

A student of archeology uses her trowel to remove dirt from an ancient mosaic floor that was discovered at an excavation site in Kosovo’s ancient city of Ulpiana, on August, 21, 2014. The archeologists exploring the site have discovered a baptistery that they believe to dates back to the 4th century AD. (AP)

Recently, Chinese doctor Liu Zhongjun successfully implanted an artificial axis – the second cervical vertebra (C2) – that was produced by a 3D printer into the spine of a bone cancer patient.  Liu said that this surgery marked the first time that an axis produced by 3D printing had been implanted into a patient. (Reuters)

Recently, Chinese doctor Liu Zhongjun successfully implanted an artificial axis – the second cervical vertebra (C2) – that was produced by a 3D printer into the spine of a bone cancer patient. Liu said that this surgery marked the first time that an axis produced by 3D printing had been implanted into a patient. (Reuters)

In an effort to avert any outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, some Asian nations have been using thermal imaging cameras and are placing Doctors at their airports so that they can screen out sick travelers as they arrive.   This photo of thermal image display was taken at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok August 22, 2014.  (Reuters)

In an effort to avert an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, some Asian nations have been using thermal imaging cameras and placing doctors at airports so that they can screen out sick travelers as they arrive. This photo of a thermal image display was taken at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on August 22, 2014. (Reuters)

Meet Kimbuka, a western lowland gorilla.  Kimbuka is shown here standing by a height chart that was placed in his enclosure at London Zoo in London August 21, 2014. The zoo is conducting its annual weigh-in which includes waist and height measurements so that the caretakers can keep track of the general wellbeing of the animals.  The weigh-in is also used to help discover possible pregnancies of endangered species as part of the Zoo's international breeding programs. (Reuters)

Meet Kimbuka, a western lowland gorilla. Kimbuka is shown here standing by a height chart that was placed in his enclosure at the London Zoo on August 21, 2014. The zoo is conducting its annual weigh-in which includes waist and height measurements so that the caretakers can keep track of the general well-being of the animals. The weigh-in is also used to help discover possible pregnancies of endangered species as part of the Zoo’s international breeding programs. (Reuters)

A member of the International Space Station crew took this image of the Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus cargo carrier spacecraft breaking up in Earth's atmosphere on August 17, 2014.  The Cygnus hauled 2,290 kilograms of cargo to the space station after its July 13, 2014 launch from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.  (NASA)

A member of the International Space Station crew took this image of the Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus cargo carrier spacecraft breaking up in Earth’s atmosphere on August 17, 2014. The Cygnus hauled 2,290 kilograms of cargo to the space station after its July 13, 2014 launch from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. (NASA)

Sunblock Could Harm Sea Animals, Seals/Sea Lions Once Spread TB, Link Between Colds/Infections and Strokes in Children, Life Found Deep Beneath Antarctic Ice

Posted August 20th, 2014 at 8:40 pm (UTC+0)
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 Beachgoer spraying herself with sunblock (JD Harvill via Flickr/Creative Commons)


Beachgoer spraying herself with sunblock (JD Harvill via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Sunblock Good For You – May Be Bad For Marine Animals

For many people, especially in the northern hemisphere, summer time is also vacation time, and one of the most popular destinations is the beach.  One of the most important rituals for beachgoers is slathering on gobs of sunblock on their bodies.

But what people count on to protect them from sunburn and skin damage has been found to be harmful to some marine animals, according to a new study published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science and Technology.

It turns out that when people take a dip in the ocean, key ingredients in sunblock – such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – wash off the skin and can form new compounds such as hydrogen peroxide when they react to ultraviolet light from the sun.

The study’s findings were based on lab tests, seawater sampling and also tourism data.  The researchers found a significant summertime spike in hydrogen peroxide levels in coastal waters, and that the key ingredients found sunblock were responsible.

The research pointed out that the high levels of hydrogen peroxide can harm phytoplankton, which many ocean dwellers from small fish to whales, depend on for their food supplies.

 

Sea lions (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Sea lions (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Study: Seals and Sea Lions Helped Spread Tuberculosis to South American Natives 1,000 Years Ago

An international group of scientists has found that seals and sea lions caught the potentially deadly tuberculosis, probably from humans, and then carried and spread the disease to native people living in South America, years before the first Europeans arrived.

In a new paper published in the journal Nature, the researchers, who studied a number of ancient and newer DNA samples, found that the strains of tuberculosis found in the genomes of humans who lived in what is now Peru a thousand years ago were closely related to strains found in a group of animals called pinnipeds, which are seals and sea lions.

However, the more modern and virulent strains of tuberculosis are those that are related to the forms of the disease carried and spread by Europeans years ago.

The study indicates that the tuberculosis strains found in ancient South Americans that were earlier transmitted by the seals and sea lions were completely replace by those brought by European explorers who landed in the New World several hundred years ago.

 

Child with a cold (Aikawa Ke via Flickr/Creative Commons

Child with a cold (Aikawa Ke via Flickr/Creative Commons

Scientists Find Possible Link Between Colds, Infection and the Risk of Stroke in Children

Researchers writing in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology® found evidence indicating that children who catch colds or other related minor infections may also have a slight, temporary risk of having a stroke.

Researchers studying a medical database found children who suffered from a stroke were 12 times as likely to have also had some kind of infection within three days prior to having the stroke.

But Dr. Lars Marquardt of Germany’s University of Erlangen-Nuremberg said in a press release that, “While the study does show an increased risk, the overall risk of stroke among children is still extremely low.  Minor infections are very common in children while strokes are thankfully very rare. Parents should not be alarmed whatsoever if a child catches a simple cold,” he said.

 

First view of the bottom of Antarctic subglacial Lake Whillans, captured by a high-resolution imaging system to help WISSARD team verify that the rest of their instruments could be safely deployed into the lake in 2013. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

First view of the bottom of Antarctic subglacial Lake Whillans, captured by a high-resolution imaging system to help WISSARD team verify that the rest of their instruments could be safely deployed into the lake in 2013. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Researchers Provide Evidence of Life and an Ecosystem Inside Ancient Antarctic Subglacial Lake

Early in 2013 Dr. John Priscu a professor from Montana State University along with the research team he helped lead to the Antarctic Ice Sheet burrowed deep into the ice to look for life in the ancient fresh water subglacial Lake Whillans.  The subglacial lake hasn’t seen the sun, nor has it been exposed to the outside environment for millions of years.

Now, Dr. Priscu and his colleagues have written a landmark paper in the journal Nature that details the findings and analysis made from research conducted in that expedition.

The study shows that there is indeed microbe life and an active ecosystem in the waters almost one kilometer below the surface.

These microorganisms, called Archaea, are able to survive and grow because they convert ammonium and methane that is found in Lake Whillans into energy, the researchers said.

“We were able to prove unequivocally to the world that Antarctica is not a dead continent,” Priscu said in a press release.

Rhythmic Light Pulses Help Astronomers Accurately Measure Medium Sized Black Hole

Posted August 18th, 2014 at 6:55 pm (UTC+0)
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This image of the galaxy Messier 82 is a composite of data from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. The intermediate-mass black hole M82 X-1 is the brightest object in the inset, at approximately 2 o'clock near the galaxy's center. (NASA/Feng et al)

Galaxy Messier 82  -  The intermediate-mass black hole M82 X-1 is the brightest object in the inset, at approximately 2 o’clock near the galaxy’s center. (NASA/Feng et al)

Astronomers have calculated that there may be about 100 million black holes in the galaxy.

And they mostly fall into two sizes… stellar and supermassive.  The size difference has to do with how much mass they contain versus that of our own sun or solar mass.

For some time now, astronomers have also theorized that black holes with a size between stellar – 100 to a million solar masses – and supermassive – hundreds to billions solar masses, called intermediate-mass black holes, also exist but their existence has never been confirmed.

While astronomers have been observing objects since the 1970s that they thought were intermediate-mass black holes, they weren’t able to measure the objects mass because they defied measurement techniques.

That is until perhaps now when a team of astronomers at the University of Maryland writing in the journal Nature announced that they were able to accurately measure an intermediate black hole which they said confirms the existence of the medium sized hypothetical astral object.

The researchers admitted that while the intermediate-mass black hole they studied may not have been the first to be measured, they say it was the first to be accurately measured.

“Objects in this range are the least expected of all black holes,” University of Maryland astronomy professor Richard Mushotzky said in a press release.

An artist's drawing shows a large black hole pulling gas away from a nearby star. (Image: NASA)

An artist’s drawing shows a large black hole pulling gas away from a nearby star. (Image: NASA)

Mushotzky, who is the study’s co-author said; “Astronomers have been asking, do these objects exist or do they not exist?  What are their properties?  Until now we have not had the data to answer these questions.”

The black hole observed and measured by the University of Maryland team has a solar mass of 400 resides in the Messier 82 galaxy, which is also known as NGC 3034, Cigar Galaxy or M82, located about 12 million light years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major.

Astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory in 1999 were making observations on the M82 galaxy when they noticed some X-rays coming out of a bright object.

They called the object M82 X-1 and suspected that it might be an intermediate-mass black hole.  Astronomers at that time weren’t able figure out its mass, so the object remained unconfirmed.

The astronomers then turned to NASA’s Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RTXTE) a satellite telescope that made about 800 observations of the M82 X-1 object between 2004 and 2010.  The RTXTE recorded the x-rays that were produced by M82 X-1.

Dheeraj Pasham, an astronomy graduate student at the University of Maryland and lead author of the study, took the data that was gathered by the RTXTE and was able to map both the intensity and wavelength of those x-rays in each of the observational sequences. Pasham then linked all the sequences together and then made an analysis of the compiled data.

Artist impression of Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) in orbit.  Data recorded by this satellite was used to measure intermediate-mass black hole (NASA)

Artist impression of Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) in orbit. Data recorded by this satellite was used to measure intermediate-mass black hole (NASA)

Pasham noticed something odd from among the material that was circling the supposed black hole.  He noticed two repeating flares of light that were pulsating at a consistent rhythm.  One of the two light flares pulsed about 5.1 times per second while the other 3.3 times per second.  Together the two light flares were pulsing at a ratio of 3:2.

This pulsing 3:2 rhythm of light has provided astronomers with a technique to measure a black hole’s mass.

But it had been used to measure smaller black holes, not on objects suspected of being intermediate-mass black holes.

Nonetheless, Pasham and his colleagues went ahead and applied the 3:2 oscillation technique to determine the mass of the object.  His calculations showed that the M82 X1 has an estimated mass of about 428 times the mass of the sun, plus or minus about 105 solar masses.

Science Images of the Week

Posted August 15th, 2014 at 7:35 pm (UTC+0)
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A man attending Gamescom 2014, Europe’s largest video games trade show, is shown here trying on Sony’s “Project Morpheus” virtual reality headset.  Gamescom 2014 runs through Sunday, August 17, 2014 in Cologne, Germany.  (Reuters)

A man attending Gamescom 2014, Europe’s largest video games trade show,  tries on Sony’s “Project Morpheus” virtual reality headset. Gamescom 2014 runs through Sunday, August 17, 2014 in Cologne, Germany. (Reuters)

Soaring above the southwest coast of Africa the Orbital Sciences Cygnus resupply cargo vehicle is shown here being released from the robotic arm on the International Space Station on August 15, 2014. (AP)

Soaring above the southwest coast of Africa, the Orbital Sciences Cygnus resupply cargo vehicle is released from the robotic arm on the International Space Station on August 15, 2014. (AP)

Protein samples that were taken from tobacco plants are being prepared in the laboratory of Icon Genetics on August 14, 2014.  The samples are being used in the German company’s current efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine. (Reuters)

Protein samples that were taken from tobacco plants are prepared in the laboratory of Icon Genetics on August 14, 2014. The samples are being used in the German company’s current efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine. (Reuters)

Gathering in a Madrid park, people enjoy the spectacular sight of a perigee moon, also known as a supermoon, as it rises above them on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014. A supermoon takes place when the moon is near the horizon and appears larger and brighter than other full moons. (AP)

Gathering in a Madrid park, people enjoy the spectacular sight of a perigee moon, also known as a supermoon, as it rises above them on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014. A supermoon takes place when the moon is near the horizon and appears larger and brighter than other full moons. (AP)

A female Sri Lankan baby leopard, born July 1, 2014 in a zoo located in Maubeuge, France was shown to the public on August 12, 2014. The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently has the Sri Lankan leopard listed as an endangered animal species. (Reuters)

This female Sri Lankan baby leopard, born July 1, 2014 in a zoo located in Maubeuge, France was shown to the public on August 12, 2014. The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently has the Sri Lankan leopard listed as an endangered animal species. (Reuters)

People throughout the world were recently treated to a show in the night skies during the annual Perseid meteor shower.  Here, in this long exposure photo taken on August 13, 2014, a meteor (center) falls through the atmosphere above the village of Blace, Macedonia (AP)

People throughout the world (mostly in the northern hemisphere) were recently treated to a show in the night skies during the annual Perseid meteor shower. Here, in this long exposure photo taken on August 13, 2014, a meteor (center) falls through the atmosphere above the village of Blace, Macedonia (AP)

Here’s another view of a Perseid meteor as it streaks through the Earth's atmosphere.  This photo was taken by astronaut Ron Garan while aboard the International Space Station on August 13, 2011. (NASA)

Here’s another view of a Perseid meteor (center) as it streaks through the Earth’s atmosphere. This photo was taken by astronaut Ron Garan while aboard the International Space Station on August 13, 2011. (NASA)

No they’re not astronauts or visitors from an alien planet but instead are actually doctors working in a Biosafety Level III laboratory at Peru’s National Institute of Health in Lima on August 12, 2014.  While no cases of Ebola have been reported so far in Peru, officials there still want to be prepared and are fitting the laboratory with equipment to perform sophisticated molecular testing that helps diagnose Ebola. (Reuters)

No, they’re not astronauts or visitors from an alien planet, but instead are doctors working in a Biosafety Level III laboratory at Peru’s National Institute of Health in Lima on August 12, 2014. While no cases of Ebola have been reported so far in Peru, officials there still want to be prepared and are fitting the laboratory with equipment to perform sophisticated molecular testing that helps diagnose Ebola. (Reuters)

The European Space Agency’s ATV-5 spacecraft, loaded with a variety of supplies, is seen here approaching the International Space Station, on August 12, 2014.  Launched from French Guiana on July 29, 2014 this was the last ATV spacecraft that ESA will send to resupply the space station. (© Roscomos/O.Artemyev)

The European Space Agency’s ATV-5 spacecraft, loaded with a variety of supplies, is seen here approaching the International Space Station, on August 12, 2014. Launched from French Guiana on July 29, 2014 this was the last ATV spacecraft that ESA will send to resupply the space station. (© Roscomos/O.Artemyev)

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