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Biotech

Researchers Discover A Surprising New Role for Lungs: Making Blood (ucsf.edu) 59

schwit1 quotes ScienceAlert: In experiments involving mice, the team found that lungs produce more than 10 million platelets (tiny blood cells) per hour, equating to the majority of platelets in the animals' circulation. This goes against the decades-long assumption that bone marrow produces all of our blood components. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco also discovered a previously unknown pool of blood stem cells that makes this happen inside the lung tissue -- cells that were incorrectly assumed to mainly reside in bone marrow. "This finding definitely suggests a more sophisticated view of the lungs -- that they're not just for respiration, but also a key partner in formation of crucial aspects of the blood," says one of the researchers, Mark R. Looney.
The platelet-producing cells actually migrate from the bone marrow to the lungs.
Biotech

Theranos To Investors: Please Don't Sue! Here, Have Some More Shares (siliconbeat.com) 85

Theranos "plans to give additional shares to investors who pledge not to sue," reports the Wall Street Journal. An anonymous reader quotes Silicon Beat: The deal, which hasn't been disclosed publicly, was approved by the Palo Alto-based company's board last month, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing anonymous "people familiar with the matter." They said most investors have tentatively agreed to the deal. Those extra shares are coming from none other than founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes' personal cache, the Journal reported. That means the beleaguered founder, who has remained stubbornly at the helm of her struggling startup even though federal regulators have barred her from running a medical lab for two years, would give up her majority ownership in the company.
AI

The First Practical Use For Quantum Computers: Chemistry (technologyreview.com) 42

"The first quantum computer to start paying its way with useful work in the real world looks likely to do so by helping chemists," writes MIT Technology Review, "trying to do things like improve batteries or electronics." An anonymous reader quotes their report: So far, simulating molecules and reactions is the use case for early, small quantum computers sketched out in most detail by researchers developing the new kind of algorithms needed for such machines... "From the point of view of what is theoretically proven, chemistry is ahead," says Scott Crowder, chief technology officer for the IBM division that today sells hardware including supercomputers and hopes to add cloud-hosted quantum computers to its product line-up in the next few years...

Researchers have long used simulations of molecules and chemical reactions to aid research into things like new materials, drugs, or industrial catalysts. The tactic can reduce time spent on physical experiments and scientific dead ends, and it accounts for a significant proportion of the workload of the world's supercomputers. Yet the payoffs are limited because even the most powerful supercomputers cannot perfectly re-create all the complex quantum behaviors of atoms and electrons in even relatively small molecules, says Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a chemistry professor at Harvard. He's looking forward to the day simulations on quantum computers can accelerate his research group's efforts to find new light-emitting molecules for displays, for example, and batteries suitable for grid-scale energy storage.

Microsoft is already focusing on chemistry and materials science in its quantum algorithm effort, saying a hybrid system combining conventional computers with a small quantum computer "has great promise for studying molecules." Meanwhile, the article argues that breaking encryption, "although a genuine threat, is one of the most distant applications of the technology, because the algorithms involved would require an extremely large quantum processor."
Biotech

Tech Billionaires Invest In Linking Brains To Computers (technologyreview.com) 77

"To many in Silicon Valley, the brain looks like an unconquered frontier whose importance dwarfs any achievement made in computing or the Web," including Bryan Johnson, the founder of Braintree online payments, and Elon Musk. An anonymous reader quotes MIT Technology Review: Johnson is effectively jumping on an opportunity created by the Brain Initiative, an Obama-era project which plowed money into new schemes for recording neurons. That influx of cash has spurred the formation of several other startups, including Paradromics and Cortera, also developing novel hardware for collecting brain signals. As part of the government brain project, the defense R&D agency DARPA says it is close to announcing $60 million in contracts under a program to create a "high-fidelity" brain interface able to simultaneously record from one million neurons (the current record is about 200) and stimulate 100,000 at a time...

According to neuroscientists, several figures from the tech sector are currently scouring labs across the U.S. for technology that might fuse human and artificial intelligence. In addition to Johnson, Elon Musk has been teasing a project called "neural lace," which he said at a 2016 conference will lead to "symbiosis with machines." And Mark Zuckerberg declared in a 2015 Q&A that people will one day be able to share "full sensory and emotional experiences," not just photos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at Building 8, its secretive hardware division.

Elon Musk complains that the current speeds for transferring signals from brains are "ridiculously slow".
Medicine

West African Village Weighs Using Genetically Modified Mosquitoes In Malaria Fight (scientificamerican.com) 112

New submitter omaha393 writes: A public engagement campaign is underway in the hopes of convincing Burkina Faso residents to allow the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat deadly mosquito-borne pathogens. GM mosquitoes rely on a technology called "gene drives." Different gene drives offer different solutions, typically leading to subsequent broods being sterile, predominantly male, resistant to infection or nonviable due to toxic traits. Researchers in this case are only in the preliminary stages of releasing sterile males but hope to begin wider releases of GM mosquitoes in about 6 years.

Burkina Faso is not the only country to pursue GM mosquitoes in efforts to prevent disease. Brazil has become a testing ground for wide release, and last fall voters in Florida Keys approved measures to begin releasing GM mosquitoes to fight the spread of Zika. Both the WHO and the U.S. FDA have approved the technique, but skeptics are critical of the method.

Data Storage

Researchers Store Computer OS, Short Movie On DNA (phys.org) 95

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: In a new study published in the journal Science, a pair of researchers at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center (NYGC) show that an algorithm designed for streaming video on a cellphone can unlock DNA's nearly full storage potential by squeezing more information into its four base nucleotides. They demonstrate that this technology is also extremely reliable. Erlich and his colleague Dina Zielinski, an associate scientist at NYGC, chose six files to encode, or write, into DNA: a full computer operating system, an 1895 French film, "Arrival of a train at La Ciotat," a $50 Amazon gift card, a computer virus, a Pioneer plaque and a 1948 study by information theorist Claude Shannon. They compressed the files into a master file, and then split the data into short strings of binary code made up of ones and zeros. Using an erasure-correcting algorithm called fountain codes, they randomly packaged the strings into so-called droplets, and mapped the ones and zeros in each droplet to the four nucleotide bases in DNA: A, G, C and T. The algorithm deleted letter combinations known to create errors, and added a barcode to each droplet to help reassemble the files later. In all, they generated a digital list of 72,000 DNA strands, each 200 bases long, and sent it in a text file to a San Francisco DNA-synthesis startup, Twist Bioscience, that specializes in turning digital data into biological data. Two weeks later, they received a vial holding a speck of DNA molecules. To retrieve their files, they used modern sequencing technology to read the DNA strands, followed by software to translate the genetic code back into binary. They recovered their files with zero errors, the study reports. The study also notes that "a virtually unlimited number of copies of the files could be created with their coding technique by multiplying their DNA sample through polymerase chain reaction (PCR)." The researchers also "show that their coding strategy packs 215 petabytes of data on a single gram of DNA."
Biotech

SpaceX's Next Launch Carries Colonies Of A Drug-Resistant Superbug (businessinsider.com.au) 56

An anonymous reader quotes Business Insider: SpaceX is preparing to launch a lethal, antibiotic-resistant superbug into orbit...to live its days in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station. The idea is not to weaponize space with MRSA -- a bacterium that kills more Americans every year than HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, emphysema, and homicide combined -- but to send its mutation rates into hyperdrive, allowing scientists to see the pathogen's next moves well before they appear on Earth. The NASA-funded study will see SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launch colonies of MRSA into space, to be cultivated in the US National Laboratory on the International Space Station.

"We will leverage the microgravity environment on the ISS to accelerate the Precision Medicine revolution here on Earth," lead researcher Anita Goel, CEO of biotech company Nanobiosym, told Yahoo News... "Our ability to anticipate drug-resistant mutations with Gene-RADAR will lead to next generation antibiotics that are more precisely tailored to stop the spread of the world's most dangerous pathogens," says Goel.

That launch was scheduled for today, but SpaceX postponed it to "take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle." [UPDATE: The launch was completed successfully on Sunday.] Two more externally-mounted payloads will conduct other experiments, with one monitoring lightning strikes on earth and the other measuring chemicals in the earth's atmosphere. In addition, there's also 21 science experiments that were submitted by high school students

Meanwhile, Slashdot reader tomhath brings news that researchers have discovered the red berries of a U.S. weed can help fight superbugs. The researchers found "extracts from the Brazilian peppertree, which traditional healers in the Amazon have used for hundreds of years to treat skin and soft-tissue infections, have the power to stop methicillin-resistant MRSA infections in mice." One of the researchers said the extract "weakens the bacteria so the mouse's own defenses work better."
Medicine

Genetically Modified Salmonella Destroys Cancer By Provoking An Immune Response, Study Finds (sandiegouniontribune.com) 79

schwit1 quotes a report from San Diego Union-Tribune: A genetically modified bacterium destroys tumors by provoking an immune response, according to a study published Wednesday. Using mice and cultures of human cancer cells, a South Korean-led scientific team demonstrated that Salmonella typhimurium engineered to make a foreign protein caused immune cells called macrophages and neutralizes to mobilize against the cancer. The bacterium came from an attenuated strain that has little infectious potential. Such strains have been tested as vaccines. The protein, called FlaB, is made by a gene in the estuarine bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, a close relative of the cholera bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Tumors shrank below detectable levels in 11 out of 20 mice injected with the modified Salmonella, said the study, published in Science Translational Medicine. The engineered Salmonella provoke a sustained immune response, in addition to preventing the spread of a human colon cancer implanted in a mouse. The bacterium also were found to be nontoxic, multiplying almost exclusively inside tumors.
Medicine

Studies Link Some Stomach Drugs To Alzheimer's Disease and Kidney Problems (scientificamerican.com) 102

While the recommended dosage for Nexium, Prevacid and Prilose is just two weeks, doctors often advise patients to continue taking them for years. But now Scientific American reports that "Chronic use of popular heartburn medicines may be riskier than was thought," citing two papers linking the drugs to an increase risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, and a greater risk of kidney problems. schwit1 quotes their report: The papers did not prove that PPIs cause the problems. But some researchers have nonetheless suggested possible mechanisms by which long-term use of the drugs could trigger dementia or kidney problems. A reduction in vitamin B12, for example, might leave the brain more vulnerable to damage, says Britta Haenisch, an author of the JAMA Neurology study and a neuropharmacologist at the Bonn campus of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. Last spring clinicians at the Houston Methodist Research Institute reported another plausible explanation for how PPIs might lead to these unexpected health issues: they picked up signs that the drugs act not only in the stomach but elsewhere in the body, too.
The article ends on an ambiguous note. "Without conclusive data, physicians and patients have to balance the need to prevent the ill effects of excess stomach acid and reflux with the desire to avoid potentially serious -- if theoretical -- side effects from long-term use of PPIs."
Printer

Scientists Create 3D Bioprinter Capable of Printing Living Human Skin (ibtimes.co.uk) 54

New submitter drunkdrone quotes a report from International Business Times: Spanish scientists say they have developed a prototype 3D printer that is capable of printing "functional" human skin that can be used for transplant patients, as well as an ethical alternative to animal testing. The so-called bioprinter uses special "ink" consisting of human cells and other biological components to reproduce the natural structure of the skin, including the external epidermis and the deeper dermis layer. These "bio inks" are deposited from special injectors onto a print bed to produce skin that is bioactive and capable of producing its own human collagen, the researchers claim. This means that the 3D-printed skin is, in essence, living tissue, making it suitable for treating burn patients and for testing cosmetic, chemical and pharmaceutical products. According to UC3M, the technology could be used to print other human tissues, although first it needs to be approved by regulators in order to ensure the skin it produces is fit for use on human patients.
Desktops (Apple)

Malwarebytes Discovers 'First Mac Malware of 2017' (securityweek.com) 60

wiredmikey writes: Security researchers have a uncovered a Mac OS based espionage malware they have named "Quimitchin." The malware is what they consider to be "the first Mac malware of 2017," which appears to be a classic espionage tool. While it has some old code and appears to have existed undetected for some time, it works. It was discovered when an IT admin noticed unusual traffic coming from a particular Mac, and has been seen infecting Macs at biomedical facilities. From SecurityWeek.com: "Quimitchin comprises just two files: a .plist file that simply keeps the .client running at all times, and the .client file containing the payload. The latter is a 'minified and obfuscated' perl script that is more novel in design. It combines three components, Thomas Reed, director of Mac offerings at Malwarebytes and author of the blog post told SecurityWeek: 'a Mac binary, another perl script and a Java class tacked on at the end in the __DATA__ section of the main perl script. The script extracts these, writes them to /tmp/ and executes them.' Its primary purpose seems to be screen captures and webcam access, making it a classic espionage tool. Somewhat surprisingly the code uses antique system calls. 'These are some truly ancient functions, as far as the tech world is concerned, dating back to pre-OS X days,' he wrote in the blog post. 'In addition, the binary also includes the open source libjpeg code, which was last updated in 1998.' The script also contains Linux shell commands. Running the malware on a Linux machine, Malwarebytes 'found that -- with the exception of the Mach-O binary -- everything ran just fine.' It is possible that there is a specific Linux variant of the malware in existence -- but the researchers have not been able to find one. It did find two Windows executable files, courtesy of VirusTotal, that communicated with the same CC server. One of them even used the same libjpeg library, which hasn't been updated since 1998, as that used by Quimitchin."
Medicine

'Superbug' Resistant To 26 Antibiotics Kills A Patient In Nevada (upi.com) 296

An anonymous reader quotes UPI: A Nevada woman in her 70s who'd recently returned from India died in September from a "superbug" infection that resisted all antibiotics, according to a report released Friday... The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "basically reported that there was nothing in our medicine cabinet to treat this lady," report co-author Dr. Randall Todd told the Reno Gazette-Journal. He's director of epidemiology and public health preparedness for the Washoe County Health District, in Reno... CDC testing subsequently revealed the germ was New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase -- a highly resistant form of CRE typically found outside the United States.
The Military

US Military Seeks Biodegradable Bullets That Sprout Plants (newatlas.com) 285

The Department of Defense is looking at ways to clean up the hundreds of thousands of training rounds used by the U.S. army. It is putting out the call for the development of biodegradable ammunition loaded with seeds that sprout plans after being discharged. New Atlas reports: At military facilities across the U.S. and indeed around the world, a huge number of rounds are fired for training purposes, ranging from low-velocity 40 mm grenades, to mortars, to 155 mm artillery rounds. All of these feature components that can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and falling onto the ground in such great numbers means that finding and cleaning them up is no small task. But left behind, they can corrode and pollute the soil and water supplies. So the Department of Defense has put out a call for proposals through the Small Business Innovation Research agency that solve the problem. The DoD describes the solution as a naturally occurring biodegradable material that can replace those used in current training rounds. It imagines that the biodegradable composites will be capable of holding bioengineered seeds inside (a technology it says has been demonstrated previously), that won't germinate until they have been in the ground for several months. Then plants will sprout from the discharged ammunition that actively remove soil contaminants and consume the other biodegradable components. Also imperative is that animals are able to safely consume the plants.
Biotech

Theranos Is Laying Off 155 People, About 41 Percent Of Its Workforce (cnbc.com) 52

The embattled blood-testing company Theranos is laying off 155 people, about 41 percent of its workforce, as it struggles to recover from the backlash generated when the company failed to provide accurate results to patients using its proprietary blood test technology. The job cuts announced today are similar to the cuts announced last year in October, when the company said it would shut down its blood-testing facilities and shrink its workforce by more than 40%. CNBC reports: The start-up will let go of its workers after months of regulatory setbacks as well as lawsuits and scrutiny. That would leave 220 workers to focus on its business plans, primarily its blood testing product called the miniLab. "These are always the most difficult decisions; however, this move allows Theranos to marshal its resources most efficiently and effectively," Theranos said in a statement.
Biotech

A Squishy Clockwork BioBot Releases Doses of Drugs Inside the Body (ieee.org) 15

the_newsbeagle writes: Making micro-machines that work inside the body is tricky, because hard silicon and metal devices can cause problems. So bioengineers are working on soft and squishy gadgets that can be implanted and do useful work. Here's a soft biobot that's modeled on a Swiss watch mechanism called a Geneva drive. With every tick forward, the tiny gizmo releases a dose of drugs. Getting the material properties just right was a challenge. "If your material is collapsing like jello, it's hard to make robots out of it," says inventor Samuel Sia.
Medicine

Baby's Skull Rebuilt With Help From A 3D Printer (newsday.com) 41

schwit1 writes: A team at Stony Brook Children's Hospital was able to use a 3-D printer to produce a replica of baby Vincent's skull, which, in turn, allowed the medical team to fully rehearse the surgery long before they stepped into the operating room. Through a collaboration with Medical Modeling in Colorado, known now as 3D Systems, Egnor and Duboys were able to virtually plan the entire surgery in advance. Duboys said images from a CT scan of baby Vincent's head were sent to the company, which then manufactured a model skull using the CT information as a template. The company also created a model of what Vincent's skull should look like after surgery.
Biotech

You're An Adult, But Your Brain Might Not Be, Researchers Say (cnn.com) 261

"The human brain reaches its adult volume by age 10, but the neurons that make it up continue to change for years after that," reports the New York Times, citing a new paper by neuroscience researchers that questions when "adulthood" really begins. An anonymous reader writes: One of the paper's authors -- an associate psychology professor at Harvard -- tells CNN that "There is no agreed-on benchmark that, when reached, would allow a neuroscientist to say 'Aha! This brain is fully developed'. However, it is safe to say that by almost any metric, the brain is continuing to develop actively well past the age of 18..."

"Some children, researchers have found, have neural networks that look as if they belong to an adult..." adds the Times, noting that adolescents also "do about as well as adults on cognition tests, for instance. But if they're feeling strong emotions, those scores can plummet. The problem seems to be that teenagers have not yet developed a strong brain system that keeps emotions under control."

And this cuts both ways, according to a psychologist at Temple University who wants the voting age lowered to 16. ("Sixteen-year-olds are just as good at logical reasoning as older people are," he tells the Times) But he also believes judges should consider the lack of emotional control when sentencing defendants -- even if they're in their early 20s. "Most crime situations that young people are involved in are emotionally arousing situations -- they're scared, or they're angry, intoxicated or whatever."
Medicine

Flickering Lights May Illuminate A Path To Alzheimer's Treatment (latimes.com) 30

Slashdot reader rpavlicek writes, "Research done by MIT late this year has shown that light signals can improve the brain's neuron gamma frequency which can reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease (by removing brain plaque). Beneficial effects were found in both intercranial and optical stimuli." The Los Angeles Times reports: New research demonstrates that, in mice whose brains are under attack by Alzheimer's dementia, exposure to lights that flicker at a precise frequency can right the brain's faulty signaling and energize its immune cells to fight off the disease... In mice, these effects were limited to the visual cortex. In humans with Alzheimer's, that's not one of the brain regions that gets gummed up early or significantly by amyloid plaques. But the authors of the new research held out hope that the light therapy might induce gamma oscillations, or their immune-boosting effect, more broadly in human brains, or that some change in delivery of the light might extend its effects to brain regions, such as the hippocampus, that are profoundly affected by Alzheimer's.
A startup has already approached the FDA seeking clinical trials, and the L.A. Times adds that "Even if the new research does not yield a treatment for Alzheimer's, it is expected to deepen understanding of a key player in the disease -- the brain's dedicated immune system -- and point to ways it can be used to fight the disease."
Biotech

Human Cells Naturally 'Eat' Silicon Nanowires (ieee.org) 42

the_newsbeagle writes: By showing that human cells naturally engulf minuscule silicon nanowires, a material scientist from the University of Chicago has opened the way to intracellular electronics. Applications could include very specialized drug delivery, electrically stimulating the organelles inside the cell, or recording the signals that pass between those internal structures. From IEEE Spectrum: "Using both an electron microscope and a specialized optical imaging tool designed by the team, the group recorded the eating of the nanowires in detail. It appears that the cell's outer membrane folds itself like a pocket, grabs the nanowire, and envelops it in a membrane-lined bubble. The process is called phagocytosis; it's the same method used by immune cells to grab a bit of bacteria and swallow it up. Once the nanowire is inside, the cell's machinery then shuttles it through its system with sudden bursts of speed -- up to 99.4 nanometers per second -- and deposits it just outside the cell's nucleus. Tian's group made a video of the process (complete with melodramatic accompaniment)."
Medicine

Human Zika Antibodies Prevent Infection in Mice (voanews.com) 12

An anonymous reader quotes VOA News: Chinese researchers have identified broadly neutralizing human antibodies from a Zika patient that protected mice against infection with the mosquito-borne illness. The substances are part of a growing arsenal of antibody-related treatments to fight the disease, which causes severe birth defects in babies... Unlike other Zika-neutralizing antibodies that have been isolated from human patients, the newly-discovered antibodies only target the virus.

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