Events In Your Past Determine Which Microbes Live On You

2014-04-19 08:12:10 mega-man

Trillions of microbes reside in and on our physique. We don’t but totally have in mind how these microbial ecosystems increase or the whole extent to which they affect our well being. Some present crucial vitamins, whereas others result in illness. A brand new find out about now offers some surprising influences on the contents of those communities, as scientists have discovered that lifestyles historical past, together with stage of schooling, can impact the forms of microbes that flourish. They suspect this might assist within the analysis and remedy of illness.

A wholesome human offers a house for approximately a hundred trillion micro organism and different microbes. These microbes are often called the microbiome, and normally they live on the body in communities, with specialised populations on different organs.

Evolution has assured that both humans and bacteria benefit from this relationship. In exchange for somewhere to live, bacteria protect their hosts from harmful pathogens. Past analysis of the gut microbiome has shown that, when this beneficial relationship breaks down, it can lead to illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, a chronic digestive disorder.

You’ve been swabbed

One of the largest research projects looking at the delicate connection between humans and their resident microbes is called the Human Microbiome Project (HMP). As part of the project, hundreds of individuals are being sampled for microbes on various parts of their bodies, with the hope that the data will reveal interesting relationships.

In the new study, published in Nature, Patrick Schloss at the University of Michigan and his colleagues set out to use data from the HMP to investigate whether events in a person’s life could influence their microbiome.

Their data came from 300 healthy individuals, with men and women equally represented, ranging in age between 18 and 40. Life history events, such as level of education, country of birth, diet, and recent use of antibiotics were among 160 data pieces were recorded. Finally, samples were swabbed from 18 places across the body to analyse their microbiome communities at two different time intervals, 12 to 18 months apart.

Lack of such knowledge means that Schloss cannot explain odd correlations, such as why women with a baccalaureate degree have specific communities in their vaginal microbiome.

Those swabs underwent genomic analysis. A select group of four bacterial communities were selected to test what proportion of each was found on different body parts. That data was then compared with life history events. Only three life history events out of about 160 tested could be associated with a specific microbial community. These were: gender, level of education, and whether or not the subject was breastfed as a child.

This complicated issue may help diagnosis and treatment of illnesses. “If a certain community of bacteria is associated with a specific life history trait,” Schloss said, “it is not such a stretch to imagine that there may be microbiome communities associated with illnesses such as cancer.”

To be sure, these associations are only correlations. Neither Schloss nor hundreds of other scientists working on microbiome data can be sure why certain communities end up on certain body parts of only certain individuals. “We really don’t have a good idea for what determines the type of community you’ll have at any given body site,” Schloss said.

Lack of such knowledge means that Schloss cannot explain odd correlations, such as why women with a baccalaureate degree have specific communities in their vaginal microbiome. Because level of education is also associated with a range of other factors such as wealth and social status – we can’t know that it is only education affecting the vaginal microbiome. Janneke Van de Wijgert at the University of Liverpool said, “I think that it is impossible to tease out the individual effects of education, sexual behaviour, vaginal hygiene behaviour, ethnicity, and social status.”

Van de Wijgert believes the data has other limitations. “The study population of a mere 300 was homogenous and healthy – young, white women and men from Houston and St Louis – which likely means that much additional microbiome variation has been missed.”

With better tools, genomic data analysis has substantially improved since the project launched in 2008. Van de Wijgert thinks that future studies need to sample a lot more individuals and look for changes at shorter time intervals.

She is hopeful that microbiome data can be used to improve medicine, make it more tailored to individual. But before manipulations of the microbiome are used to treat illnesses, she said, it should be confirmed that the offending bacteria communities cause – and are not symptom of – disease. If the bacteria causes an illness, then efforts can be made – such as a change in diet or microbial transplant – to treat disease.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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First Success Witnessed In World's Longest-Running Experiment

2014-04-19 08:12:07 mega-man

Right here comes the pitch… 

In baseball, that phrase would quick be adopted by using an end result, like strike three! However within the world’s longest-running scientific experiment, waiting is the game. And so far, humans have struck out. 

In 1927, scientists at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, heated up a bunch of pitch, a derivative of tar once used for waterproofing boats. After letting it settle for three years they opened the seal at the bottom of the funnel, and the great pitch drop experiment began, a demonstration that some things that appear solid, like pitch, are really just highly viscous fluids. And flow. Very slowly. Since 1930, eight drops of pitch have fallen, and not a single one has been witnessed by a human or a camera. 

Until this week. Sort of. When it comes to the pitch drop experiment, there’s a lot of waiting, and continual letdowns. Kind of like being a baseball fan. But every now and then, something happens! Yesterday, the ninth drop of pitch touched another drop of pitch in the beaker beneath the funnel. It wasn’t exactly a drop, but close enough, right? Eh…

The scientists have been waiting for 13 years for this latest drop to touch the bottom, so it is a milestone in its own right. On average, drops fell once every eight years to 1988, but the eighth and ninth drops have each taken about 13 years (going into extra-innings?). Unfortunately for John Mainstone, the late professor who was the custodian of the experiment, never saw one drop in his lifetime, as explained by the University of Queensland

The former custodian of the experiment, [Mainstone], missed observing the drops fall on three occasions – by a day in 1977, by only five minutes in 1988 when it was on display at the World Expo in Brisbane, and in 2000 when a webcam that was recording it missed the crucial moment when the drop fell during a 20-minute power outage.

The experiment was subsequently put under constant surveillance, with three webcams trained on it to capture the ninth drop’s fall.

Sounds like they’re really covering their bases. For the curious, you can watch the pitch drop experiment unfold yourself here. But I’ll warn you–the action is a little hit or miss. 

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Russia Ships The World's First Load of Offshore Arctic Oil

2014-04-19 08:12:04 mega-man
Russian Arctic offshore oil rig Prirazlomnoye
Oil Be There
The Prirazlomnoye offshore drilling platform, within the Pechora Sea above the Arctic circle, commenced extracting oil in December 2013, and loaded its first cargo in April 2014 — a couple of decade off time table. The rig is 620 miles from Murmansk and only a few dozen miles from coastal and island natural world reserves.

Russia has introduced its first cargo of Arctic offshore oil.  Russian President Vladimir Putin watched oil loading from the Prirazlomnoye drilling platform onto a tanker Friday by means of video hyperlink, according to state-run ITAR-TASS, and celebrated the shipment as the beginning of a bigger Russian presence on world energy markets.

The 70,000 metric ton load (roughly 490,000 gallons) is, as far as we know, the world’s first market-sized shipment of oil extracted from the floor of any marine body above the Arctic Circle. Offshore oil extraction has only become commercially viable in recent years, as advances in petroleum technologies have combined with warming temperatures to ease, slightly, the physical and financial challenges of drilling in the harsh Arctic environment.

Greenpeace and others have charged that the potential for an oil spill is too risky in the easily damaged Arctic environment, which includes important fisheries in the Barents Sea. They also argue that untapped supplies of fossil fuels should be left underground, in favor of developing energy sources that won’t create greenhouse gas pollution and further destabilize the climate.

The Prirazlomnoye field is located about 38 miles off Russia’s northwestern coast, in the Pechora Sea, the southeastern section of the Barents Sea. It holds an estimated 72 million metric tons of recoverable oil. The oil company Gazprom Neft operates the field, and has partnered with Shell on its overall Arctic offshore oil development.

Russia already produces more than 10 million barrels (420 million gallons) of oil daily, but intends for Arctic offshore strikes to maintain this level of production as its Western Siberian oil fields run dry, reports Reuters.

The Prirazlomnoye platform was the site of an anti-drilling protest last September, which ended when masked Russian paratroopers boarded the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise and arrested all 30 crew and activists. The demonstrators were ultimately released without criminal prosecution thanks to a parliamentary amnesty. But Russia has not given up the ship, which remains in Murmansk.

President Putin’s apparent satisfaction about this offshore Arctic oil shipment seems particularly newsworthy set against his nation’s recent, retro-futuristic geopolitical relations with Ukraine, which feature the seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, and subsequent threats to cut off natural gas shipments to Ukraine and the rest of Europe. (Russia is the major supplier of fossil fuels to Europe, according to the European Commission.) The former Soviet republic yesterday hosted a a renewable energy conference at its embassy in Washington, D.C. according to Bloomberg News.

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An Invisible Barn And Other Amazing Images From This Week

2014-04-19 08:12:00 mega-man
Invisible Barn
What do you get while you wrap a barn in mylar? You get nothing.

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Over Meal Of Whale Meat, Japan Announces Plan To Restart "Scientific" Whaling In Antarctica

2014-04-19 08:11:57 mega-man
Harpooned whale
A whale captured by means of the Yushin Maru, a Jap harpoon vessel, in February 2008.
Customs and Border Safety Carrier, Commonwealth of Australia

On March 31, Japan used to be ordered to halt its whaling program in Antarctica by a United Nations court, which ruled that the activity amounted to a commercial operation and was not for research purposes as stated. Now, less than three weeks later, Japan announced it will re-launch its whale-killing “research” operation next year, while addressing objections raised by the UN’s International Court of Justice. 

The court’s decision gave Japan a golden opportunity to ditch a practice that has brought international condemnation, and which doesn’t appear to be that popular in Japan itself, as the country no longer consumes much whale meat. “We are revising the contents of the research to take into consideration the court’s decision to the greatest extent that we can,” the Minister of Agriculture, Yoshimasa Hayashi, told reporters. “We want to gather scientific data in order to resume commercial whaling as soon as possible.”

Japan “says its 26-year-old research program is needed to monitor recovering whale populations in the Southern Ocean, but opponents call it a crude cover for continued commercial whaling,” the New York Times reported. Crude indeed. By its own admission, Japan’s hunt isn’t really about research–or if it is, it’s about research geared toward restarting commercial whaling, which has been outlawed since 1986 (for the record, Norway and Iceland openly defy that moratorium). It’s hard to believe anybody could possibly believe that Japan needs to kill scores of whales–in the past, up to 950 minke, fin and humpback whales each year in the Southern Ocean, but presumably less in the future–to keep tabs on the animal’s populations. But so goes the absurd argument.

Yesterday (April 17) officials and lobbyists in Japan hosted a whale buffet to protest the UN court’s decision and celebrate the harvest of the large mammals. 


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New Test Could Diagnose Asthma With A Single Drop Of Blood

2014-04-18 20:11:51 mega-man
A 3D-rendering of a neutrophil.
BruceBlaus by way of Wikimedia Commons

Whereas some signs of bronchial asthma, like wheezing, are evident, a prognosis of bronchial asthma shouldn’t be all the time clear lower, particularly if they do not happen when sufferers are with their medical doctors, and contain trials of lung operate and exams for hypersensitive reactions. However one new check may be able to diagnose bronchial asthma with a single drop of blood. 

Within the study, researchers found that neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, of asthmatics move more slowly than the cells of those without asthma. The scientists have created a micro-fluidic, handheld device that can test how quickly these neutrophils migrate toward the source of inflammation; these white blood cells move toward wounds in the body, for example, and help start the healing process. But neutrophils of asthmatics, like Piggy in Lord of the Flies, are sluggish. Sucks to your ass-mar, neutros. 

Previously it was impractical to use neutrophils, as it required a fair amount of blood, according to a statement from the University of Wisconsin, from which some of the researchers hail. But the new device, which is made of cheap plastic, can detect the speed at which the white blood cells are moving, and then automatically come up with a diagnosis. “The device can sort neutrophils from a drop of whole blood within minutes, and was used in a clinical setting to characterize asthmatic and non-asthmatic patients,” the researchers wrote in the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If the device works, it could have wide application. The CDC says the number of Americans diagnosed with asthma increased by 4.3 million from 2001 to 2009, and the condition now affects more than 300 million people worldwide. 

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Beard Fashions Are Governed By Darwinian Selection

2014-04-18 08:11:20 mega-man
Darwinian whiskers
Darwin had a righteous beard.
Julia Margaret Cameron by means of Wikimedia Commons

By means of the beard of Darwin! Some research have proven that women generally like beards, while others show that whiskers make men appear older and more aggressive. New research suggests that it’s all relative, though, and that men’s beard fashions follow a pattern of Darwinian selection, becoming most attractive (to both women and men) when they are rare. 

In the study, published in the journal Biology Letters, the scientists asked 1,453 women and 213 men to rate the attractiveness of men with four different levels of “beardedness,” with the extremes being clean-shaven and fully bearded. Study participants were either shown mostly full beards, mostly clean-shaven countenances, or a mixture of all four (with intermediate levels of light and heavy stubble). Both women–and men–said that heavy stubble and full beards were most attractive when they were rare, the BBC reported. Clean-shaven faces were also judged most desirable when they were not common. 

This is an example of negative frequency-dependent selection, in which traits are most desirable when they are rare. This “rule” explains why male guppies develop different bright colors, for example, the BBC noted. “Negative frequency-dependent preferences may therefore play a role in maintaining variation in men’s beards and contributing to changing fashions,” the researchers wrote. 

Does this imply that hipsters–infamous for doing the opposite of what’s generally seen as cool–may be on to something? I’d tell you, but the answer involves some obscure filmmaker you probably haven’t heard of. 

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Did Iapetus's Mountains Fall From Space?

2014-04-18 08:11:18 mega-man
The ridge of Iapetus

If you have to hike to the equator of Saturn’s moon Iapetus, you could possibly discover a abnormal sight: a surprising mountain vary jutting out of the bottom, greater than 12 miles excessive. Pictures from the Cassini spacecraft show that the ridge is a narrow 12 miles in width, and extends for more than 800 miles along the middle of the moon. But where did this narrow ridge come from? Iapetus appears to lack the signs of volcanism or geologic activity that seem likely to create such peaks. 

Scientists have suggested that the mountain range did not come from forces within Iapetus–they rather fell from the sky. In a new study, published online in arXiv (but yet to be peer-reviewed), researchers created 3D images of the peaks, working with Cassini data. They found that most of the triangular-shaped peaks were near their “angle of repose,” the fixed angle a material reaches as it erodes and falls toward the ground. This idea is suggestive of an “exogenic” origin (meaning, from outside the moon). “The evidence of slope angles close to the angle of repose make the case for an exogenic origin more plausible,” they wrote. Presumably the peaks would have a different shape, or a wider variety of shapes, if they were created by forces within Iapetus. 

The working hypothesis is that the material that fell out of the sky, so to speak, came from an impact with some large planetary body, like the collision that likely created our moon. This material then formed a ring around Iapteus that proved to be unstable, and then fell toward it, creating the ridge we see along its equator. A collision would also help explain why Iapetus has a lopsided orbit, and may help explain why one side of it always faces away from Saturn

In case you’re wondering how peaks on Iapetus compare to those on Earth or elsewhere in our planetary neighborhood, here’s a helpful guide to the mountains of our solar system

[via Medium]

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Industries that are Feeling the Effects of 3D Printing

2014-04-17 11:26:48 kerryblake

3D printing has been a huge talking point over the last couple of years. However, while the technology sounded more like a novelty for years, this is taking a new turn in 2014 with the technology becoming more versatile and affordable. Innovative startups are taking to the inherent versatility of the technology to challenge some established corporate businesses at their own game. Here is a detailed examination of the biggest industries which are being revolutionized by the advent of 3D printing.


Automotive Industry

3D printing techniques are uniquely placed to provide automotive engineers with the tools they need to stay within the two pronged objective of environmental friendly affordability. While it is too early to start talking of entire cars manufactured through 3D printing technology, the range of parts which can be manufactured using the innovative technology is increasing almost by the day. Already, there are some enterprising designers who are setting up 3D printing companies which manufacture automotive parts exclusively.

Urbee is a startup auto company that was one of the earliest adapters of the technology for use in practical every day solutions. The company aims to produce the greenest car ever to cross a production line. The project my live to see the entire car (or at the very least, the body) manufactured entirely through the use of 3D printing technology.


Credit Suisse reports that currently, well over 90% of such medial parts and accessories such as hearing aids, knee and hip replacements as well as dental equipment are all being manufactured using 3D printers. This does not even touch on the fact that the technology is being used to produce an array of soft tissue organs from ears to fingers and kidneys.

Advanced Contrast Imaging System Technology (ACIST) is a company that manufactures specialist medical equipment for radiology and cardiology. The company is now using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology to produce highly effective equipment at much reduced costs.

Aerospace and Defense

3D printing is offering governments, military and defense manufacturers create fairly complex low-volume tooling parts as well as practical prototypes. The current status of the technology is such that it can be used for reproducing and fabricating components from a wide range of materials, from steel, aluminum, titanium, and a variety of plastics.

A good example of 3D technology deployed in the defense industry is the case of EOIR Technology who are building functional mount for gun sights on M1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles using Dimension 3D printers.


Architecture, being a field which relies a lot on reproducing scale models of structures, has benefited from the development of 3D printing technologies. The printers can reproduce detailed architectural models using a host of different materials. The versatility of the technology in architectural applications can be seen where there is need to build models which must bear loads or withstand abuse. In such cases, FDM technology is used to produce strong parts as well as production grade thermoplastics.

McCann Architecture, an architectural modeling firm, provides a prime example of the technology in practical use. The firm has been using Eden 3D printers to reproduce stunning models of an Abu Dhabi edifice. It was only through the use of 3D printing technology that the firm could reproduce with exacting accuracy the unorthodox structures to such a level of detail.

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Whence Life? Receptors Responsible For Fertilization Found

2014-04-17 07:51:57 mega-man
A fertilized human egg
Wellcome Photography

The place do infants come from? In case your children ever ask, simply inform them the story of Izumo and Juno, receptors discovered on the outside of sperm and egg cells, respectively. In a find out about on mice published today in the journal Nature, researchers found that these two proteins allow the sperm and egg to recognize one another, leading to fertilization–and life as we know it. These receptors are found in many mammals, including humans. 

It previously wasn’t known how sperm and egg recognized each other. Researchers have dubbed the egg’s receptor Juno (previously known as folate receptor 4, which definitely doesn’t have the same ring), in honor of the ancient Roman goddess of fertility and marriage, Reuters noted. The term Izumo derives from the word for a Japanese marriage shrine.

The Verge explains the study: 

To validate their findings, researchers bred mice that didn’t produce Juno on eggs or Izumo on sperm. In both cases, these mice were unable to reproduce. Moreover, researchers realized that the Juno disappears from the surface of the egg moments after fertilization — an event they think reveals why eggs aren’t usually fertilized by more than one sperm cell at a time. “This explains a 50-year-old mystery as to how eggs fuse with one — and only one — sperm so that there aren’t too many chromosome contributed by the male which would result in a nonviable embryo,” said [study co-author Gavin]Wright.

The study results could help infertile (human) couples have kids. The scientists are already screening infertile women to see if they have problems with their Juno receptors. If that is the case, these women may be able to undergo a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection, which involves injecting the sperm into the egg and then re-implanting it. “It is remarkable that about 20 percent of infertility cases have an unexplained cause,” co-author Enrica Bianchi of the Sanger Institute, told Reuters. “We are now asking whether Juno is involved in these cases of unexplained infertility.”

[The Verge]

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