Scientists Use Diaper Polymers to Swell Microscope Specimens

By Ben Thomas | January 23, 2015 10:20 am

baby diaper

Sci-fi movies have shown us what it might be like to shrink down to the size of an ant, or to blow a grasshopper up to the size of a skyscraper. And while a shrink ray may never be a scientific reality, a team led by MIT’s Edward Boyden has actually found a way to expand biological tissue to several times its original size  giving researchers a more detailed look than ever at microscopic structures within the body.

And as silly as it sounds, the substance they’ve used for this upsizing is the same polymer that makes baby diapers swell up when they get wet.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: biotechnology

Rosetta Reveals Ice, Dunes and Rocky Cliffs on Comet 67P

By Sarah Scoles | January 22, 2015 12:59 pm
comet 67p

Comet 67P comes into clear view with new images and data from Rosetta. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

After 10 years, 4 billion miles, and an Interstellar-style hibernation, the Rosetta spacecraft arrived in August at its final destination: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Engineers inserted Rosetta into orbit around the comet — a human first — and began taking measurements and mapping out landing spots for the intrepid Philae lander.

Philae, once ejected, bounced twice, harpooned the comet’s surface, and came to rest in an unfortunately shady spot where it can’t recharge its solar batteries (RIP, although it’s “just sleeping”). The orbiter, though, has continued to collect information about and images of 67P. And today, scientists unveiled their first batch of new knowledge.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: comets

X-Rays Reveal Contents of Ancient Scrolls Buried by Mt. Vesuvius

By Carl Engelking | January 22, 2015 12:13 pm
An ancient scroll being scanned. Image courtesy University of Kentucky

An ancient scroll being scanned. Image courtesy University of Kentucky

Scientists are proving you can judge a “book” without ever cracking open the cover.

And by book, we mean a 2,000-year-old scroll buried after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

Over 260 years ago, archaeologists discovered hundreds of ancient scrolls left behind in an ancient library in Herculaneum, which was covered in volcanic material after the infamous eruption in 79 A.D. Unfortunately, these charred scrolls are next to impossible to open without destroying them, leaving their contents largely a mystery. But a new imaging technique allows researchers to see what’s written inside, without ever opening the delicate artifacts. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Technology, top posts

“Kill Switch” Prevents Spread of Genetically Modified Bacteria

By Kari Lydersen | January 21, 2015 12:00 pm

e coli

As genetically-modified microbes take on ever more tasks – from creating new pharmaceuticals to turning out clean fuel sources – researchers have searched for a way to biologically isolate them from their wild counterparts, so that if they were ever accidentally released, they wouldn’t be able to survive.

Now, scientists releasing two separate papers in the journal Nature think they have a solution. They unveiled two different approaches to modifying a strain of E. coli to make it dependent on artificial nutrients. In a controlled environment, such as a research lab or factory, scientists would provide that sustenance. But if the bacteria break free, they wouldn’t be able to make the compounds themselves, and would die.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: microbes & viruses

Sewage Sludge Is Flush With Gold and Platinum

By Carl Engelking | January 20, 2015 2:24 pm


Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t polish a turd” may have been full of crap.

As it turns out, a city of roughly one million inhabitants flushes $13 million worth of precious metals down toilets and sewer drains on an annual basis, according to a new study from scientists at Arizona State University. Although those scientists didn’t say whether extracting these metals from sewage sludge is economically feasible, they are encouraging us to look at wastewater as a commodity, rather than, well, waste.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Galapagos Tortoises Make a Comeback, Thanks to Rat Eradication

By Carl Engelking | January 19, 2015 1:25 pm

A baby tortoise spotted on Pinzón Island. (Credit: James Gibbs)

When it comes to protecting endangered species, humans can do more harm than good. However, sometimes our efforts are exactly what Mother Nature ordered.

In 2012 conservationists waged an aggressive campaign to poison the invasive rats living on Pinzón Island, part of the world famous Galapagos archipelago. The rats — introduced through human activity — are the top enemy for saddleback giant tortoises, one of the world’s most ancient and threatened species.

Fortunately, it seems the carpet-bomb approach to Pinzón’s rat problem is working: For the first time in over 150 years, the population of saddleback giant tortoises is set to recover on its own and has nearly tripled since conservationists stepped in to help back in 1959.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Hypnotic Eye Candy of Spinning 3-D Printed Sculptures

By Carl Engelking | January 16, 2015 1:09 pm

With a little math, sculptures can come to life.

It’s hard to be anything but mesmerized by Stanford professor John Edmark’s writhing, wriggling 3D-printed sculptures. No, those sculptures aren’t alive, though your eyes may deceive you. The secret to this eye-massaging video is actually Edmark’s creative application of Leonardo Fibonacci’s famous sequence of numbers.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: mathematics

Cats Are Finally Getting Geneticists’ Attention

By Carl Engelking | January 15, 2015 1:27 pm


Consumer doggie DNA testing is old hat at this point, having been around since 2007. But cat-lovers who wish to decipher their pet’s breed are out of luck  no such tests exist for felines.

That fact reflects the state of the underlying science. Since the first full dog genome was sequenced ten years ago, geneticists have identified hundreds of genes behind canine diseases and physical traits. By comparison, just a handful of such genes have been identified in cats.

But a group of geneticists is working to close this gap by sequencing 99 domestic cats. This week the researchers unveiled the first results from their “99 Lives” initiative.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals

Gardeners’ Good Intentions Are Killing Monarch Butterflies

By Carl Engelking | January 15, 2015 9:00 am

monarch butterfly

For monarch butterflies, the path to endangered species status could be paved with good intentions.

Throughout the United States, monarch-lovers are replenishing the supply of milkweed — the plants monarchs lay their eggs in — by growing it in their gardens. However, they’re planting the wrong species of milkweed. And in doing so, well-intentioned gardeners are actually putting more stress on declining monarch populations by convincing them to give up the annual migration altogether.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Researchers Discover Prehistoric Reptile That Roamed Scotland’s Seas

By Carl Engelking | January 12, 2015 2:08 pm
todd marshall pa

Dearcmhara shawcrossi, technically a marine reptile and not a dinosaur, is the first prehistoric aquatic species that’s uniquely Scottish (Credit: Todd Marshall/PA)

Researchers have verified fossil evidence of a massive sea beast that swam off the coasts of Scotland. And, no, this has nothing to do with the Loch Ness Monster. Or does it?

After compiling fossil fragments collected over the past 50 years from Scotland’s Isle of Skye, paleontologists have identified a new species of marine reptile that was 14 feet long, lived 170 million years ago, and looked like a cross between an alligator and a dolphin. It’s the first marine reptile from Scotland to be discovered, studied and added to the scientific record, and it goes by the name Dearcmhara shawcrossi.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs

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