How to Copy and Paste a Brain

Samsung and Harvard University have published new research that suggests it is possible to develop a brain-inspired memory chip.

In a perspective paper published in Nature Electronics, the researchers from the partnering organisations proposed that the brain’s neuronal connection map could be copied using nanoelectrode array. They specified that the nanoelectrode array could be used to record the electrical signals produced by the large number of neurons found in the brain. The recordings could then be used to inform the neuronal map by indicating where neurons connect with one another and how strong the connections are, the researchers claimed.

Once copied, the neuronal map could then be pasted onto a high-density three-dimensional network of solid-state memory, such as commercial flash memory used in solid-state drives or resistive RAM.

Ultimately, the memory chip would contain traits of the brain, such as low power, facile learning, adaption to environment, autonomy, and cognition, the researchers said. The paper also suggests one possible way to speed up pasting the neuronal map is by directly downloading the map onto a memory chip.

The vision we present is highly ambitious,” Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology fellow Donhee Ham. “But working toward such a heroic goal will push the boundaries of machine intelligence, neuroscience, and semiconductor technology.”

Looking ahead, Samsung plans to continue its research into neuromorphic engineering as part of its development of AI semiconductors.

Source: https://news.samsung.com/
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https://www.zdnet.com/

Hydrogen Cars Comeback

The race is on for car manufacturers to bring out their own range on electric vehicles (EV). But what if the new kid on the block ends up taking over? Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota are among the major firms now testing out hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) in their production lines to see which proves the most successful.

FCEVs have been criticized for being less efficient as only around 55 percent of the hydrogen energy created through electrolysis is usable, compared to between 70 and 80 percent in battery-electric cars. However, there are several advantages to fuel cells, including low recharge times – just a matter of minutes, and long-range. But several practical obstacles stand in the way of hydrogen FCEVs, such as the lack of charging infrastructure in contrast to the ever-expanding EV infrastructure. For example, at the beginning of 2021 there were only 12 hydrogen fuelling stations in the U.K., not surprising as only two brands of FCEV were on the market – the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Nexo.

In addition, hydrogen is currently much more expensive than electric fuel, costing around £60 for a 300-mile tank. Moreover, much of the hydrogen on the market comes from the excess carbon produced from fossil fuels by using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Yet, the disadvantages of battery EVs should not be overlooked. After years of investment, it is unlikely that we will see major advances in battery technology any time soon. Not to forget that lithium-ion batteries are heavy, making them near-impossible to use in freight and aviation. The metals used in existing battery production, such as cobalt and nickel, are also problematic due to ethical mining concerns as well a high costs adding to the overall price ofprice of EVs.
Source: https://oilprice.com/

Bioartificial Kidney Frees Patients from Dialysis Machines

For patients with kidney failure, dialysis is a double-edged sword: while offering the promise of sustained life, it is an invasive procedure that is also dangerous, sometimes causing bone disease, high-blood pressure and heart failure.

A new device is offering hope for those requiring dialysis. Currently being developed by The Kidney Project, this bioartificial kidney implant could free patients from dialysis machines and even kidney transplants. Last week, scientists won a $650,000 prize for the successful demonstration of a working prototype—moving the device a step closer to potentially changing the lives of millions of people suffering from life-threatening kidney diseases.

The effort is led by Shuvo Roy, a bioengineer and professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and William Fissell, a doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The project includes scientists, engineers and clinicians from across the United States.

 

The device includes a hemofilter made up of silicon semiconductor membranes that remove waste products from blood and a bioreactor containing renal tubule cells that regulate water volume, electrolyte balance and other metabolic functions

Our team engineered the artificial kidney to sustainably support a culture of human kidney cells without provoking an immune response,” Roy tells Jannat Un Nisa of the Wonderful Engineering website. “Now that we have demonstrated the feasibility of combining the hemofilter and bioreactor, we can focus on upscaling the technology for more rigorous preclinical testing, and ultimately, clinical trials.”

KidneyX, a public-private collaboration between the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology, awarded the $650,000 prize to The Kidney Project after the demonstration showed that how the new bioartifical kidney implant works without the need for the immune-suppressing drugs or blood thinners typically required with transplants, reports Michael Irving of New Atlas.

A Forest-based Yard Im­proved the Im­mune Sys­tem of Day­care Chil­dren in Only a Month

Playing through the greenery and litter of a mini forest‘s undergrowth for just one month may be enough to change a child’s immune system, according to an experiment in Finland. When daycare workers rolled out a lawn, planted forest undergrowth (such as dwarf heather and blueberries), and allowed children to care for crops in planter boxes, the diversity of microbes in the guts and on the skin of young kids appeared healthier in a very short space of time.

Compared to other city kids who play in standard urban daycares with yards of pavement, tile and gravel, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds at these greened-up daycare centers in Finland showed increased T-cells and other important immune markers in their blood within 28 days.

DURING THE STUDY, FOREST UNDERGROWTH, LAWN TURF AND PLANTER BOXES, IN WHICH CHILDREN PLANTED AND TENDED CROPS, WERE ADDED TO PAVED, TILED AND GRAVEL-COATED YARD AREAS AT DAYCARE CENTRES

We also found that the intestinal microbiota of children who received greenery was similar to the intestinal microbiota of children visiting the forest every day,” explained environmental scientist Marja Roslund from the University of Helsinki in 2020, when the research was published.

Prior research has shown early exposure to green space is somehow linked to a well-functioning immune system, but it’s still not clear whether that relationship is causal or not.

The experiment in Finland is the first to explicitly manipulate a child’s urban environment and then test for changes in their microbiome and, in turn, a child’s immune system.

Source: https://www2.helsinki.fi/

Mass Extinction

Algae and bacteria are normal parts of a healthy freshwater environment, but sometimes they can grow out of control and deplete the water of oxygen, creating ‘dead zones. This tends to happen with global warming, deforestation, and the rush of soil nutrients into waterways, which can feed microbes. All three of these factors are in play today, which is why we are probably seeing increases in toxic blooms already. Considering what’s happened in the past, that’s a disturbing sign.

According to soil, fossil, and geochemical data from the Sydney Basin, researchers think the spread of microbes in the wake of the Permian extinctionwas both a symptom of continental ecosystem collapse, and a cause of its delayed recovery.” Volcanic eruptions in the Permian first triggered an accelerated and sustained rise in greenhouse gas emissions. This caused higher global temperatures and sudden deforestation due to wildfires or drought.

Once the trees were gone, it wasn’t long before the structure of the soil began to erode, and its nutrients slipped into freshwater ecosystems. For more than three million years, Earth’s forests struggled to recover. The Sydney Basin was instead littered with lowland ecosystems that “were regularly inundated by stagnant, fresh/brackish waterbodies hosting thriving algal and bacterial populations“, the authors write. In turn, these persistent dead zones prevented the reestablishment of important carbon sinks, like peatlands, and slowed down climate and ecosystem recovery.

This major episode caused vast amounts of dust and sulfate aerosols to rise into the atmosphere, but compared to volcanic activity, the meteorite only caused a modest increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature, not a sustained one. As such, freshwater microbes only seemed to undergo a short-lived burst after the extinction event. Unfortunately, that’s very different from what occurred during the Permian extinction and what is happening today.

For instance, the researchers note that the “optimal temperature growth range” of these harmful algae in freshwater environments is 20-32 °C (68-89.6 °F). That range matches the estimated continental summer surface air temperatures for the region during the early Triassic. That range is what’s projected for mid-latitude continental summer surface air temperatures in 2100. Scientists are noticing other similarities, including an increase in forest fires and the subsequent destabilization of soils.

The other big parallel is that the increase in temperature at the end of the Permian coincided with massive increases in forest fires,” says geologist Chris Fielding, also from the University of Connecticut. “One of the things that destroyed whole ecosystems was fire, and we’re seeing that right now in places like California. One wonders what the longer-term consequences of events like that as they are becoming more and more widespread.

The good news is that this time many of the changes are in our control. The bad news is that whatever happens next is our own fault. “The end-Permian mass extinction event took four million years to recover from,” Fielding says. “That’s sobering.”

Source: https://www.nature.com/
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https://www.sciencealert.com/

World’s First COVID-19 DNA Vaccine

 India‘s drug regulator has granted emergency use approval for Zydus Cadila‘s COVID-19 vaccine, the world’s first DNA shot against the coronavirus, in adults and children aged 12 years and above. The approval gives a boost to India’s vaccination programme, which aims to inoculate all eligible adults by December, and will provide the first shot for those under 18, as the country still struggles to contain the virus spread in some states. The vaccine, ZyCoV-D, uses a section of genetic material from the virus that gives instructions as either DNA or RNA to make the specific protein that the immune system recognises and responds to. Unlike most COVID-19 vaccines, which need two doses or even a single dose, ZyCoV-D is administered in three doses.

The generic drugmaker, listed as Cadila Healthcare Ltd, aims to make 100 million to 120 million doses of ZyCoV-D annually and has already begun stockpiling the vaccineZydus Cadila‘s vaccine, developed in partnership with the Department of Biotechnology, is the second home-grown shot to get emergency authorization in India after Bharat Biotech‘s Covaxin. The drugmaker said in July its COVID-19 vaccine was effective against the new coronavirus mutants, especially the Delta variant, and that the shot is administered using a needle-free applicator as opposed to traditional syringes. The regulatory nod makes ZyCoV-D the sixth vaccine authorized for use in the country where only about 9.18% of the entire population has been fully vaccinated so far, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The firm had applied for the authorization of ZyCoV-D on July 1, based on an efficacy rate of 66.6% in a late-stage trial of over 28,000 volunteers nationwide.

https://www.reuters.com/

Solar Cells with 30-year Lifetimes

A new transparency-friendly solar cell design could marry high efficiencies with 30-year estimated lifetimes, research led by the University of Michigan has shown. It may pave the way for windows that also provide solar power.

Solar energy is about the cheapest form of energy that mankind has ever produced since the industrial revolution,” said Stephen Forrest, Professor of Electrical Engineering, who led the research. “With these devices used on windows, your building becomes a power plant.”

While silicon remains king for solar panel efficiency, it isn’t transparent. For window-friendly solar panels, researchers have been exploring organic—or carbon-basedmaterials. The challenge for Forrest’s team was how to prevent very efficient organic light-converting materials from degrading quickly during use.

The strength and the weakness of these materials lie in the molecules that transfer the photogenerated electrons to the electrodes, the entrance points to the circuit that either uses or stores the solar power. These materials are known generally as “non-fullerene acceptors” to set them apart from the more robust but less efficient “fullerene acceptors” made of nanoscale carbon mesh. Solar cells made with non-fullerene acceptors that incorporate sulfur can achieve silicon-rivaling efficiencies of 18%, but they do not last as long.

The team, including researchers at North Carolina State University and Tianjin University and Zhejiang University in China, set out to change that. In their experiments, they showed that without protecting the sunlight-converting material, the efficiency fell to less than 40% of its initial value within 12 weeks under the equivalent of 1 sun’s illumination.

Non-fullerene acceptors cause very high efficiency, but contain weak bonds that easily dissociate under high energy photons, especially the UV [ultraviolet] photons common in sunlight,” said Yongxi Li, U-M assistant research scientist in electrical engineering and computer science and first author of the paper in Nature Communications.

Source: https://news.umich.edu/

How to Boost Cancer Immunotherapy

A synthetic molecular code shows promise towards improving the response of some cancer patients to immunotherapy treatments. The approach involves using a molecule that can provide energy to anti-cancer immune cells, increasing their numbers and improving their longevity. The findings were published by Kyoto University scientists, led by Hiroshi Sugiyama, in the journal Cell Chemical Biology. Cancer cells express molecules that can target a receptor to inactivate tumor-fighting T cells.

Therapeutics that block the immunosuppressive molecule, called PD-L1, from binding to the T cell surface receptor, called PD-1, have revolutionized cancer treatment. However, more than half of cancer patients don’t respond well to this immunotherapy,” explains Madhu Malinee, the study’s first author.
“One of the major reasons for this unresponsiveness is that these patients have an insufficient number of T cells that also become exhausted because they don’t have enough active energy-providing mitochondria,” adds Ganesh Namasivayam Pandian of Kyoto University’s Institute of Integrated Cell Material Sciences (iCeMS).

The team wanted to find a way to increase the mitochondria in T cells to improve cancer patient response to PD-1 blockade monotherapy. Their aim was to activate a molecule, called PGC-1, which regulates the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism. A major roadblock to achieving this, however, has been finding a way to selectively target PGC-1. To do this, Sugiyama and colleagues used a compound, called pyrrole-imidazole polyamide (PIP), that can be programmed to target a specific DNA sequence. They assembled it as a molecular code, called EnPGC-1, that can activate PGC-1.
The team found that EnPGC-1 activated the mitochondria of mouse T cells in the laboratory, which led to an increase in T cell numbers and their longevity.
They then gave tumor-bearing mice a combination of EnPGC-1 with PD-1 blockade immunotherapy and found the strategy enhanced anti-tumor immunity in the mice and improved their survival.

Since PGC-1 signaling is known to be essential for energy metabolism, EnPGC-1 also has potential for being developed as a drug to treat other diseases, like type 2 diabetes and hyperlipidemia,” says Madhu.
Further improvements are needed before the approach can be tested for clinical use”, adds Ganesh. For example, the team aims to find ways to deliver EnPGC-1 specifically to T cells to reduce its off-target effects.

Source: https://www.icems.kyoto-u.ac.jp/

New DNA-Based Chip Programmed to Solve Complex Math Problems

The field of DNA computing has evolved by leaps and bounds since it was first proposed nearly 30 years ago. But most DNA computing processes are still performed manually, with reactants being added step-by-step to the reaction by hand. Now, finally, scientists at Incheon National University, Korea have found a way to automate DNA calculations by developing a unique chip that can be controlled by a personal computer. DNA computing, such as the calculations performed by the novel DNA-based microchip, has the potential to execute complex mathematical functions more easily than conventional electronic computers can.

The term ‘DNA’ immediately calls to mind the double-stranded helix that contains all our genetic information. But the individual units of its two strands are pairs of molecules bonded with each other in a selective, complementary fashion. Turns out, one can take advantage of this pairing property to perform complex mathematical calculations, and this forms the basis of DNA computing.

Since DNA has only two strands, performing even a simple calculation requires multiple chemical reactions using different sets of DNA. In most existing research, the DNA for each reaction are added manually, one by one, into a single reaction tube, which makes the process very cumbersome. Microfluidic chips, which consist of narrow channels etched onto a material like plastic, offer a way to automate the process. But despite their promise, the use of microfluidic chips for DNA computing remains underexplored.

In a recent article-made available online in ACS Nano a team of scientists from Incheon National University (INU), Korea, present a programmable DNA-based microfluidic chip that can be controlled by a personal computer to perform DNA calculations.

Our hope is that DNA-based CPUs will replace electronic CPUs in the future because they consume less power, which will help with global warming. DNA-based CPUs also provide a platform for complex calculations like deep learning solutions and mathematical modelling,” says Dr. Youngjun Song from INU, who led the study.

Dr. Song and team used 3D printing to fabricate their microfluidic chip, which can execute Boolean logic, one of the fundamental logics of computer programming. Boolean logic is a type of true-or-false logic that compares inputs and returns a value of ‘true’ or ‘false’ depending on the type of operation, or ‘logic gate,’ used. The logic gate in this experiment consisted of a single-stranded DNA template. Different single-stranded DNA were then used as inputs. If part of an input DNA had a complementary Watson-Crick sequence to the template DNA, it paired to form double-stranded DNA. The output was considered true or false based on the size of the final DNA.

Source: http://www.inu.ac.kr

Higher Risk of Dementia for Millions with Eye Conditions

Millions of people with eye conditions including age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes-related eye disease have an increased risk of developing dementia, new research shows. Vision impairment can be one of the first signs of the disease, which is predicted to affect more than 130 million people worldwide by 2050.

Previous research has suggested there could be a link between eye conditions that cause vision impairment, and cognitive impairment. However, the incidence of these conditions increases with age, as do systemic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and stroke, which are all accepted risk factors for dementia. That meant it was unclear whether eye conditions were linked with a higher incidence of dementia independently of systemic conditions.

Now researchers have found that age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetes-related eye disease are independently associated with increased risk of dementia, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

The research examined data from 12,364 British adults aged 55 to 73, who were taking part in the UK Biobank study. They were assessed in 2006 and again in 2010 with their health information tracked until early 2021. More than 2,300 cases of dementia were documented, according to the international team of experts led by academics from the Guangdong Eye Institute in China. After assessing health data, researchers found those with age-related macular degeneration had a 26% increased risk of developing dementia. Those with cataracts had an 11% increased risk and people with diabetes-related eye disease had a 61% heightened risk. Glaucoma was not linked to a significant increase in risk.

Researchers also found that people with conditions including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and depression were also more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. Risk was highest among people with one of these conditions who also had some form of eye condition, they said.

Age-related macular degeneration, cataract and diabetes-related eye disease but not glaucoma are associated with an increased risk of dementia,” the authors concluded.

Individuals with both ophthalmic and systemic conditions are at higher risk of dementia compared with those with an ophthalmic or systemic condition only.”

The study comes as Alzheimer’s Research UK says public willingness to get involved with medical research is at an “all-time high”. The charity said 29% of adults were more likely to consider getting involved in medical research because of the pandemic, according to a poll of 1,000 adults across England, Scotland and Wales.

The survey found that 69% said they would be willing to get involved with dementia research, compared with 50% of a sample of people from a year ago.

This is positive news for the thousands of studies waiting to get under way to help understand and tackle health conditions like dementia, cancer, and heart disease,” said Hilary Evans, the chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/