Monthly Archives: September 2019

Little Algae Bioreactor Removes As Much Carbon Dioxide as 4000m2 of Trees

Algae could play a surprising role in the fight against climate change. A.I.-focused technology firm Hypergiant Industries announced a machine that uses the aquatic organisms to sequester carbon dioxide. Algae, the company claims, is “one of nature’s most efficient machines.” By pairing it with a machine learning system, its developers hope to make these talents even more effective. That’s not all. The team claims the device, which measures three feet (90 centimeters) on each side and seven feet (2,1 meters) tall, can sequester as much carbon as a whole acre (4000 square meters) of trees — estimated somewhere around two tons.

We’ve been thinking about climate change solutions in only a very narrow scope,” Ben Lamm, CEO of the Austin-based firm, said. “Trees are part of the solution but there are so many other biological solutions that are useful. Algae is much more effective than trees at reducing carbon in the atmosphere, and can be used to create carbon negative fuels, plastics, textiles, food, fertilizer and much more.”
It’s not the only ambitious idea in the works at the six-division Hypergiant Industries. Its Galactic division is aiming to build a multi-planetary internet by using satellites as relays. Last month, it took the wraps off a prototype Iron Man-like helmet that could aid search and rescue teams. The company, founded last year, counts Bill Nye and astronaut Andy Allen among its advisory board members.

Hypergiant’s algae-powered bioreactor is the sort of idea that could be needed now more than ever. Despite a push to greener technologies, global annual carbon emissions rose in 2018 to hit an all-time high of 37.1 billion tonnes. That’s after two years of a relative plateau between 2014 and 2016. This has resulted in a global climate shift, where 2018 was the fourth-hottest year on record. Several countries, including the United Kingdom, have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Research has shown that restoring forests by an area the size of the United States could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a staggering 25 percent, reaching levels not seen for a century. While planting trees could play an important role in the pushback, alternative solutions like carbon capture and storage and new sequestering technologies could also help remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Algae, Hypergiant Industries explains, needs three elements for growth: light, water, and carbon dioxide. The machine monitors factors like light, available carbon dioxide, temperature and more to maximize the amount sequestered by the algae.

One Eos Bioreactor sequesters the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as an entire acre of trees,” Lamm says. “With enough Eos devices, we could make whole cities carbon-neutral or even negative, and at a rate that is so much faster than that of trees. That’s the dream: breathable, livable cities for everyone and right now.”

When the algae consumes carbon dioxide, it produces biomass. The company has suggested that this biomass could be used in a number of applications, like making oils or cosmetics. A smart city could take the biomass and use it for fuels. The machine is small enough to fit inside office buildings, and Lamm tells FastCompany that the initial prototype it’s currently operating can attach to a building’s HVAC system to clean the air inside.

Eye Test Reveals How Likely Is A Person To Develop Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) begins to alter and damage the brain years — even decadesbefore symptoms appear, making early identification of AD risk paramount to slowing its progression.

In a new study published online in the September 9, 2019 issue of the Neurobiology of Aging , scientists at University of California San Diego School of Medicine say that, with further developments, measuring how quickly a person’s pupil dilates while they are taking cognitive tests may be a low-cost, low-invasive method to aid in screening individuals at increased genetic risk for AD before cognitive decline begins.

In recent years, researchers investigating the pathology of AD have primarily directed their attention at two causative or contributory factors: the accumulation of protein plaques in the brain called amyloid-beta and tangles of a protein called tau. Both have been linked to damaging and killing neurons, resulting in progressive cognitive dysfunction.

The new study focuses on pupillary responses which are driven by the locus coeruleus (LC), a cluster of neurons in the brainstem involved in regulating arousal and also modulating cognitive function. Tau is the earliest occurring known biomarker for AD; it first appears in the LC; and it is more strongly associated with cognition than amyloid-beta. The study was led by first author William S. Kremen, PhD, and senior author Carol E. Franz, PhD, both professors of psychiatry and co-directors of the Center for Behavior Genetics of Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The LC drives pupillary response — the changing diameter of the eyes’ pupils — during cognitive tasks. (Pupils get bigger the more difficult the brain task.) In previously published work, the researchers had reported that adults with mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to AD, displayed greater pupil dilation and cognitive effort than cognitively normal individuals, even if both groups produced equivalent results. Critically, in the latest paper, the scientists link pupillary dilation responses with identified AD risk genes.

face of an elderly man

How quickly a person’s pupils dilate while doing mental tasks may be an indicator of increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Given the evidence linking pupillary responses, LC and tau and the association between pupillary response and AD polygenic risk scores (an aggregate accounting of factors to determine an individual’s inherited AD risk), these results are proof-of-concept that measuring pupillary response during cognitive tasks could be another screening tool to detect Alzheimer’s before symptom appear,” said Kremen.

Source: https://health.ucsd.edu/

Biomimetic Nanoparticles Used As Carriers Improve AntiCancer Drugs

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in collaboration with researchers from Åbo Akademi University (Finland) and Huazhong University of Science and Technology (China) have developed a new anti-cancer nanomedicine for targeted cancer chemotherapy. This new nano-tool provides a new approach to use cell-based nanomedicines for efficient cancer chemotherapy.

Exosomes contain various molecular constituents of their cell of origin, including proteins and RNA. Now the researchers have harnessed them together with synthetic nanomaterial as carriers of anticancer drugs. The new exosome-based nanomedicines enhanced tumor accumulation, extravasation from blood vessels and penetration into deep tumor parenchyma after intravenous administration.

Exosomes

The new exosome-based nanomedicines enhanced tumor accumulation, extravasation from blood vessels and penetration into deep tumor parenchyma after intravenous administration.

This study highlights the importance of cell-based nanomedicines”, says the principal investigator and one of the corresponding authors of this study, Hélder A. Santos, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki.

Nanoparticles-based drug delivery systems have shown promising therapeutic efficacy in cancer. To increase their targetability to tumors, nanoparticles are usually functionalized with targeted antibodies, peptides or other biomolecules. However, such targeting ligands may sometimes have a negative influence on the nanoparticle delivery owing to the enhanced immune-responses.

Biomimetic nanoparticles on the other hand combine the unique functionalities of natural biomaterials, such as cells or cell membranes, and bioengineering versatility of synthetic nanoparticles, that can be used as an efficient drug delivery platform. The developed biocompatible exosome-sheathed porous silicon-based nanomedicines for targeted cancer chemotherapy resulted in augmented in vivo anticancer drug enrichment in tumor cells. “This demonstrates the potential of the exosome-biomimetic nanoparticles to act as drug carriers to improve the anticancer drug efficacy”, Santos concludes.

Source:  https://www.helsinki.fi/

RoboTaxis transported 6,299 passengers in one month

Waymo transported 6,299 passengers in self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in its first month participating in a robotaxi pilot program in California, according to a quarterly report the company filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

In all, the company completed 4,678 passenger trips in July — plus another 12 trips for educational purposes. It’s a noteworthy figure for an inaugural effort that pencils out to an average of 156 trips every day that month.  And it demonstrates that Waymo has the resources, staff and vehicles to operate a self-driving vehicle pilot while continuing to test its technology in multiple cities and ramp up its Waymo One ride-hailing service in Arizona. But Waymo’s data — along with quarterly reports from three other companies that hold permits with the CPUC — provides just a hint at what demand could be for commercial autonomous vehicles and how these services might reshape cities.

Waymo’s pilot program, for instance, isn’t open to the public. Waymo or Alphabet employees and their guests can take rides within its geofenced South Bay territory, which currently includes Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. This is only a few of the cities where Waymo is currently testing in California. And because companies in this pilot program cannot charge for rides, it’s difficult to determine what the demand will be for self-driving passenger services, Dr. Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, noted in a recent interview.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/

How To Make A Car Run Forever

Put together the best solar panels money can buy, super-efficient batteries and decades of car-making know-how and, theoretically, a vehicle might run forever. That’s the audacious motivation behind a project by Toyota Motor Corp., Sharp Corp. and New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization of Japan, or NEDO, to test a Prius that could revolutionize transportation.

The solar car’s advantage is that — while it can’t drive for a long range — it’s really independent of charging facilities,” said Koji Makino, a project manager at Toyota.

Even if fully electric cars overtake petroleum-powered vehicles in sales, they still need to be plugged in, which means building a network of charging stations across the globe. The sun, on the other hand, shines everywhere for free, and when that energy is paired with enough battery capacity to propel automobiles at night, solar-powered cars could leapfrog all the new-energy technologies being developed, from plug-in hybrids to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, in one fell swoop. But the current forecast is only partly sunny because there’s still some work left to reach that level of efficiency.

This is not a technology we are going to see widely used in the next decades,” said Takeshi Miyao, an auto analyst at consultancy Carnorama. “It’s going to take a long time.”

Not for lack of trying. Toyota and Hyundai Motor Coalready introduced commercial models with solar panels on the roof, but they were too underpowered and could barely juice the sound system. A Prius plug-in hybrid that sells for more than 3 million yen offers solar panels as an option, but they only charge the battery when parked. The maximum amount of power for driving only lasts about 6 kilometers (about 4 miles), said Mitsuhiro Yamazaki, director at the solar energy systems division of NEDO. Toyota has been testing a new solar-powered Prius since July, though it acknowledges that cars running nonstop without connecting to a hose or plug are still far away. Even so, the Toyota City-based company said the research will pay off in other ways.

Indeed, there have been some breakthroughs, mainly due to advancements by Sharp. The prototype’s solar panel converts sunlight at an efficiency level of more than 34%, compared with about 20% for current panels on the market. Because the solar cell being used by Toyota, Sharp and NEDO is only about 0.03 mm thick, it can be placed on more surfaces, including the curvy parts of the roof, hood and hatchback. The electrical system can charge the vehicle even when it’s on the move.

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/

Reverse biological aging

In a small clinical trial, scientists were looking for a means to restore the thymus — the gland that forms and releases key immune cells. By doing so, they actually managed to reverse various aspects of biological aging. The thymus gland, located between the lungs, is the organ within which T cells — a critical population of immune cells — mature. This gland also has a peculiarity. After a person reaches puberty, it begins a process of involution, which means that it becomes less and less active and starts to shrink in size gradually. Studies have shown that thymic involution affects the size of immune cell populations related to it, possibly causing changes to biological mechanisms when people reach their 60s.

Prof. Steve Horvath from the University of California Los Angeles School of Public Health and colleagues initially set out to see if they could restore function in the aging thymus.

Thymic involution leads to the depletion of critical immune cell populations, […] and is linked to age‐related increases in cancer incidence, infectious disease, autoimmune conditions, generalized inflammation, atherosclerosis, and all‐cause mortalit,” he explains In the study paper recently published in the journal Aging Cell.

For the reasons outlined above, the researchers organized and conducted what they believe is a first-of-its-kind clinical trial: TRIIM (Thymus Regeneration, Immunorestoration, and Insulin Mitigation). The study took place between 2015–2017, and the researchers were pleased with the results they achieved. They found that it was possible to restore thymic function and reduce the risk of age-related conditions and diseases linked to poor immune system reaction.

They also had a pleasant surprise. At the end of the trial, the researchers found that the mix of drugs they used to restore the thymus gland had also reversed other aspects of biological aging. A person’s biological age refers not to how old they are in conventional years, but to how much their biological mechanisms have aged, according to their epigenetic clocksmarkers that indicate how changes in various cellular mechanisms have affected gene expression.

For their trial, Prof. Horvath and team recruited 10 healthy adult males aged 51–65. The researchers were able to use and analyze data collected from nine of these individuals. In the first week of the clinical trial, the researchers gave the participants recombinant human growth hormone (rhGH). In its natural state, rhGH supports many different aspects of cellular health, such as cell growth and regeneration. Previous studies — some conducted in animals, and others with the participation of individuals with HIV — have uncovered evidence that rhGH could help restore thymus function, as well as immune system effectiveness. 

Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/
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Water Found On A Potentially Life-friendly Alien Planet

In a first for astronomers studying worlds beyond our solar system, data from the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed water vapor in the atmosphere of an Earth-size planet. Although this exoplanet orbits a star that is smaller than our sun, it falls within what’s known as the star’s habitable zone, the range of orbital distances where it would be warm enough for liquid water to exist on a planet’s surface. The discovery, announced this week in two independent studies, comes from years of observations of the exoplanet K2-18b, a super-Earth that’s about 111 light-years from our solar system. Discovered in 2015 by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, K2-18b is very unlike our home world: It’s more than eight times the mass of Earth, which means it’s either an icy giant like Neptune or a rocky world with a thick, hydrogen-rich atmosphere.

K2-18b’s orbit also takes it seven times closer to its star than Earth gets to the sun. But because it circles a type of dim red star known as an M dwarf, that orbit places it in the star’s potentially life-friendly zone. Crude models predict that K2-18b’s effective temperature falls somewhere between -100 and 116 degrees Fahrenheit, and if it is about as reflective as Earth, its equilibrium temperature would be roughly the same as our home planet’s.

This is the only planet right now that we know outside the solar system that has the correct temperature to support water, it has an atmosphere, and it has water in it—making this planet the best candidate for habitability that we know right now,” University College London astronomer Angelos Tsiaras, a coauthor of one of the two studies, said during a press conference.

Source: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/

How To Detect Heart Failure From A Single Heartbeat

Researchers have developed a neural network approach that can accurately identify congestive heart failure with 100% accuracy through analysis of just one raw electrocardiogram (ECG) heartbeat, a new study reports.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a chronic progressive condition that affects the pumping power of the heart muscles. Associated with high prevalence, significant mortality rates and sustained healthcare costs, clinical practitioners and health systems urgently require efficient detection processes.

Dr Sebastiano Massaro, Associate Professor of Organisational Neuroscience at the University of Surrey, has worked with colleagues Mihaela Porumb and Dr Leandro Pecchia at the University of Warwick and Ernesto Iadanza at the University of Florence, to tackle these important concerns by using Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN) – hierarchical neural networks highly effective in recognising patterns and structures in data.

Published in Biomedical Signal Processing and Control Journal, their research drastically improves existing CHF detection methods typically focused on heart rate variability that, whilst effective, are time-consuming and prone to errors. Conversely, their new model uses a combination of advanced signal processing and machine learning tools on raw ECG signals, delivering 100% accuracy.

We trained and tested the CNN model on large publicly available ECG datasets featuring subjects with CHF as well as healthy, non-arrhythmic hearts. Our model delivered 100% accuracy: by checking just one heartbeat we are able detect whether or not a person has heart failure. Our model is also one of the first known to be able to identify the ECG’ s morphological features specifically associated to the severity of the condition,”  explains Dr Massaro.  Dr Pecchia, President at European Alliance for Medical and Biological Engineering, explains the implications of these findings: “With approximately 26 million people worldwide affected by a form of heart failure, our research presents a major advancement on the current methodology. Enabling clinical practitioners to access an accurate CHF detection tool can make a significant societal impact, with patients benefitting from early and more efficient diagnosis and easing pressures on NHS resources.”

Source: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/

The Science Of BioPrinting a Human Heart

A company called Biolife4D has developed the technology to print human cardiac tissue by collecting blood cells from a patient and converting these cells to a type of stem cell called Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells. The technology could eventually be used to create thousands of much-needed hearts for transplantation.

What we’re working on is literally bioprinting a human heart viable for transplantation out of a patient’s own cells, so that we’re not only addressing the problem with the lack of [organ] supply, but by bioengineering the heart out of their own cells, we’re eliminating the rejection,Biolife4D CEO Steven Morris said during an appearance on Digital Trends Live, referring to the body’s impulse to reject a transplanted organ.

It starts with a patient’s own cells and ends with a 3D bioprinted heart that’s a precise fit and genetic match. The BIOLIFE4D bioprinted organ replacement process begins with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedure used to create a detailed three-dimensional image of a patient’s heart. Using this image, a computer software program will construct a digital model of a new heart for the patient, matching the shape and size of the original.

A “bio-ink” is created using the specialized heart cells combined with nutrients and other materials that will help the cells survive the bioprinting processHearts created through the BIOLIFE4D bioprinting process start with a patient’s own cells. Doctors safely take cells from the patient via a blood sample, and leveraging recent stem cell research breakthroughs, BIOLIFE4D plans to reprogram those blood cells and convert them to create specialized heart cells.

Bioprinting is done with a 3D bioprinter that is fed the dimensions obtained from the MRI. After printing, the heart is then matured in a bioreactor, conditioned to make it stronger and readied for patient transplant.

Source: https://biolife4d.com/

Loch Ness Monster Might Just Be A Giant Eel

Scotland’s fabled Loch Ness monster could possibly be a giant eel, scientists said after an intensive analysis of traces of DNA in the Loch’s icy waters. The results ruled out the presence of large animals such as dinosaurs, they said. But there was a lot of eel DNA in the Loch, Professor Neil Gemmell, a geneticist from New Zealand’s University of Otago, told reporters.

Eels are very plentiful in the loch system – every single sampling site that we went to pretty much had eels and the sheer volume of it was a bit of a surprise,” Gemmell said. “We can’t exclude the possibility that there’s a giant eel in Loch Ness but we don’t know whether these samples we’ve collected are from a giant beast or just an ordinary one – so there’s still this element of ‘we just don’t know.’”

Gemmell noted however that despite the idea of a giant eel having been around for decades, nobody had ever caught a giant one in the Loch. The international team of scientists took their samples of so-called environmental DNA (eDNA) in June last year.

The use of eDNA sampling is already well established as a tool for monitoring marine life like whales and sharks.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/