Who Should Profit from Yellowstone’s Microbes

Posted on November 23, 2007  Comments (0)

The Gold in Yellowstone’s Microbes

Year by year, Yellowstone’s hot waters are yielding remarkable new microbial specimens with implications for medicine, agriculture and energy, as well as offering clues to the formation of earliest life on Earth and maybe even on Mars. The potential financial windfalls are enormous, as evidenced by one big jackpot.

Yellowstone microbes (and those from a few other hot spots on the planet) may also hold great promise for bioremediation — cleaning up chemical pollution, oil slicks and smokestack emissions — as well as the means to accelerate biomass fermentation and develop drought-resistant crops. And there is more to be discovered: Probably less than one percent of Yellowstone’s microscopic life forms have been discovered and studied.

the National Park Service signed a secretive research-sharing agreement with Diversa Corporation in 1998. Non-profit groups quickly cried “bio-piracy!” when they found out and sued the Service over the arrangement. While a federal court dismissed the case, it ordered the Park Service to address the issue… But the Park Service is still trying to come up with an acceptable, benefits-sharing agreement that might allow bio-prospecting of microbes and disclosure of findings, with a fair return to the Park from any commercial success.

Related: Patenting Life, a Bad IdeaLight-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in YellowstoneYellowstone National Park PhotosLife-patentsScientists Chart Record Rise in Yellowstone Caldera


Posted on November 22, 2007  Comments (2)

The god of small things:

While working on the conundrum, Higgs came up with an elegant mechanism to solve the problem. It showed that at the very beginning of the universe, the smallest building blocks of nature were truly weightless, but became heavy a fraction of a second later, when the fireball of the big bang cooled. His theory was a breakthrough in itself, but something more profound dropped out of his calculations.

Higgs’s theory showed that mass was produced by a new type of field that clings to particles wherever they are, dragging on them and making the heavy. Some particles find the field more sticky than others. Particles of light are oblivious to it. Others have to wade through it like an elephant in tar. So, in theory, particles can weigh nothing, but as soon as they are in the field, they get heavy.

Scientists now know that Higgs’s extraordinary field, or something very similar to it, played a key role in the formation of the universe. Without it, the cosmos would not have exploded into the rich, infinite galaxies we see today. The spinning disc of cosmic dust that collapsed 4.5 billion years ago to form our solar system would never have been. No planets would have formed, nor a sun to warm them. Life would not have stood a chance.

In late summer 1964, two years before he would give his Princeton lecture, Higgs rushed out a succinct letter, packed with mathematical formulae that backed his discovery and sent it to a leading physics journal run from Cern, the European nuclear research organisation in Geneva. The paper was published almost immediately, but went largely unnoticed.

Related: CERN Prepares for LHC OperationsQuantum Mechanics Made Relatively SimpleTime may not Exist

Six Cool Ideas

Posted on November 21, 2007  Comments (0)

Six Ideas That Will Change the World

The Pollution Magnet РEighty-two thousand people die from cancer in Bangladesh every year, many due to arsenic poisoning. But building upon her discovery of a way to get rust nanoparticles to bind to arsenic, Vicki Colvin has invented a new, astonishingly easy way to clean the water supply: Saut̩ a teaspoon of rust in a mixture of oil and lye, which breaks down the rust into nano-sized pieces. Retrieve the rust particles with a household magnet. Then immerse the rust-covered magnet into a pot of contaminated water. Pull out the arsenic. The system is up to a hundred times more efficient than existing methods, and requires no electricity or manufacturing infrastructure, so even the poorest of villagers can use it.

Depending upon government regulations, Colvin’s extraction system should go global in as few as five years. Yet ultimately, Colvin, a professor of chemistry and chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University, has bigger plans. She sees her method as just the first step toward developing an easy point-of-use water-purification system that would cover virtually every pollutant. The filter would have a dipstick to tell you what’s in the water and a reader to tell you what you need to add to pull it out — perhaps silver nanoparticles to kill bacteria or a protein to capture pesticides.

Related: 100 Innovations for 2006Strawjet: Invention of the YearTrash + Plasma = ElectricityLifestrawModern Marvels Invent Now Challenge10 Things That Will Change The Way We Live

Moringa Oleifera: The Miracle Tree

Posted on November 20, 2007  Comments (0)

One thing I enjoy brought about by the web is finding interesting tidbits such as – Moringa Oleifera: The Miracle Tree:

For centuries, the natives of northern India and many parts of Africa have known of the many benefits of Moringa oleifera. Its uses are as unique as the names it is known by, such as clarifier tree, horseradish tree and drumstick tree (referring to the large drumstick shaped pods) and in East Africa it is called “mother’s best friend”. Virtually every part of the tree can be used. Native only to the foothills of the Himalayas, it is now widely cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and the Philippines. This tree, though little known in the Western world, is nutritional dynamite. There are literally hundreds of uses for this tree.

The immature pods are the most valued and widely used of all the tree parts. The pods are extremely nutritious, containing all the essential amino acids along with many vitamins and other nutrients. The immature pod can be eaten raw or prepared like green peas or green beans, while the mature pods are usually fried and possess a peanut-like flavor. The pods also yield 38 – 40% of non-drying, edible oil known as Ben Oil. This oil is clear, sweet and odorless, and never becomes rancid. Overall, its nutritional value most closely resembles olive oil. The thickened root is used as a substitute for horseradish although this is now discouraged as it contains alkaloids, especially moriginine, and a bacteriocide, spirochin, both of which can prove fatal following ingestion. The leaves are eaten as greens, in salads, in vegetable curries, as pickles and for seasoning. They can be pounded up and used for scrubbing utensils and for cleaning walls. Leaves and young branches are relished by livestock. The Bark can be used for tanning and also yields a coarse fiber. The flowers, which must be cooked, are eaten either mixed with other foods or fried in batter and have been shown to be rich in potassium and calcium.

More internet finds: Sarah, aged 3, Learns About SoapPlumpynut, Miracle FoodThe AvocadoMore Nutritious WheatCool Mechanical Simulation SystemAerogels – Weird SolidsAwesome Cat Cam


Posted on November 19, 2007  Comments (7)

photo of the Nigersaurus Jaw Bones

Structural Extremes in a Cretaceous Dinosaur

Nigersaurus taqueti shows extreme adaptations for a dinosaurian herbivore including a skull of extremely light construction, tooth batteries located at the distal end of the jaws, tooth replacement as fast as one per month, an expanded muzzle that faces directly toward the ground, and hollow presacral vertebral centra with more air sac space than bone by volume. A cranial endocast provides the first reasonably complete view of a sauropod brain including its small olfactory bulbs and cerebrum. Skeletal and dental evidence suggests that Nigersaurus was a ground-level herbivore that gathered and sliced relatively soft vegetation, the culmination of a low-browsing feeding strategy first established among diplodocoids during the Jurassic.

This discovery has received a good deal of coverage. Among other things it is great to see this paper is available to everyone who wants to view it because it is published by open access PLoS One. The Nigersaurus was discovered in what is now the Sahara Desert in Niger. When the Nigersaurus was roaming the area, 110 million years ago, the climate was a Mesozoic forest. The dinosaur had a few hundred teeth that were replaced almost monthly (a record). The bones of the head and neck were so minimal and light that the Read more about the Nigersaurus. As the author stated: “One of the stunning things about this animal is how fragile the skull is… Some of the bones are so thin you can shine a light through them.”

Related: Extreme Dinosaur: Nigersaurus, the Mesozoic Cow!Dinosaur from Sahara ate like a ‘Mesozoic cow’Nigersaurus: just when you thought you’d seen everything…Dino’s look is hard to swallowBizarre Dinosaur Grazed Like a Cow, Study SaysT-rex TreasureMost Dinosaurs Remain Undiscovered

Robot Boats Hunt Pirates

Posted on November 19, 2007  Comments (0)

Robot Boats Hunt High-Tech Pirates on the High-Speed Seas

The International Maritime Bureau is tracking a 14-percent increase in worldwide pirate attacks this year. And although modern-day pirates enjoy collecting their fare share of booty—they have a soft spot for communications gear—they’re just as likely to ransom an entire ship. In one particularly sobering case, hijackers killed one crew member of a Taiwan-owned vessel each month until their demands were met.

For years now, law enforcement agencies across the high seas have proposed robotic boats, or unmanned surface vessels (USVs), as a way to help deal with 21st-Century techno Black Beards. The Navy has tested at least two small, armed USV demonstrators designed to patrol harbors and defend vessels. And both the Navy and the Coast Guard have expressed interest in the Protector, a 30-ft.-long USV built by BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Israeli defense firm RAFAEL.

The Protector, which comes mounted with a 7.62mm machine gun, wasn’t originally intended for anti-piracy operations. But according to BAE Systems spokesperson Stephanie Moncada, the robot could easily fill that role.

Related: International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle CompetitionAutonomous Flying Vehicles

Google’s Secret 10GbE Switch

Posted on November 18, 2007  Comments (0)

Google’s Secret 10GbE Switch, interesting speculation by Andrew Schmitt:

Through conversations with multiple carrier, equipment, and component industry sources we have confirmed that Google has designed, built, and deployed homebrewed 10GbE switches for providing server interconnect within their data centers. This is very similar to Google’s efforts to build its own server computers (excellent article here). Google realized that because its computing needs were very specific, it could design and build computers that were cheaper and lower power than off the shelf alternatives. The decision to do so had a profound impact on server architecture and influenced the market’s move to lower power density solutions that Sun (JAVA) , Intel (INTC) and AMD (AMD) now embrace.

Related: Cost of Powering Your PCFirst Year of Google WiFiposts on Google managementCustom Google Science and Engineer Search – by Curious Cat

2nd Annual Science Blogging Conference

Posted on November 18, 2007  Comments (0)

2nd Annual Science Blogging Conference will be held in North Carolina on January 19th (there are also pre-conference activities on the 18th). I unfortunately won’t make it but take a look and see if it is something you would enjoy. The program includes:

  • Open Science: how the Web is changing the way science is done, written and published with Dr.Hemai Parthasarathy
  • Blogging about the Social Sciences and Humanities with Martin Rundkvist and John McKay
  • Changing Minds through Science Communication: a panel on Framing Science with Chris Mooney , Jennifer Jacquet and Sheril Kirshenbaum

Open Laboratory 2007, an anthology of science blog posts will be published, as it was last year. Posts need to have been posted between 20 Dec 2006 and 20 Dec 2007 to be eligible. Submit your suggestions.

Related: Science Blogging Conference in NC2006 Science Blog Anthologydirectory of science blogs

Gene Carnival

Posted on November 18, 2007  Comments (1)

From Scienceroll’s carnival post – Gene Genie #19: Geneticalization

Matt Mealiffe at DNA and You talks about several genes linked to eye color.

Larry Moran, our favourite professor and author of Sandwalk, has a post about diversity and the major histocompatibility (MHC) loci.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula says mutations in the CFTR gene cause Cystic Fibrosis.

T. Ryan Gregory at Genomicron asks a strange question: Are you a cat genome person or a dog genome person?

Cool Crow Research

Posted on November 17, 2007  Comments (8)

photo of crow vending machine

Very cool project – A Vending Machine for Crows

The goal of this project is to create a device that will autonomously train crows. Initially we’re training them to deposit dropped coins they find on the ground in exchange for peanuts, but eventually we hope to be able to train them to search and rescue, or to collect garbage, or who knows!

This is the highest-risk segment of the machine’s operation. At this point coins alone are made available whenever the bird lands on the perch. However, should a bird peck or sweep coins off the tray and cause a coin to fall down the funnel, the device then produces some peanuts. This stage is designed to cement in the crows’ mind the relationship between coins going down the funnel and peanuts being made available.

Finally we shift the device into its intended, and long-term state of only providing peanuts when coins go down the funnel. Nothing is otherwise provided aside from coins scattered around the device at the beginning of the project.

Joshua Klein Thesis presentation definitely watch this! (the webcast takes like 30 seconds before the talk starts – it is worth the wait). Watch a video from the University of Ithaca site (with Dr. Kevin McGowan).

Other sites that also are mentioned as possible sites: Dr. Anne Clark, University of Binghamton (with a captive population of crows); Dr. Natalie Jeremijenko (seed podcast), Dr. Carolee Caffrey, Harvard and Dr. James Ha, University of Washington. Read the Paper by Joshua Klein about the plans for the experiment.

Related: The Engineer That Made Your Cat a PhotographerBackyard Wildlife: FoxAnts on Stilts for Science

Disrupting Bacteria Communication

Posted on November 16, 2007  Comments (1)

Princeton scientists break cholera’s lines of communication

A team of Princeton scientists has discovered a key mechanism in how bacteria communicate with each other, a pivotal breakthrough that could lead to treatments for cholera and other bacterial diseases.

The mechanism is a chemical that cholera bacteria use for transmitting messages to each other, known as CAI-1, and has been isolated in the lab of molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler. Her team has shown that the chemical also can be used to disrupt the communication that exists among the bacteria, potentially halting the disease’s progress. The discovery could lead to an entirely new class of antibiotics.

Higgins isolated the CAI-1 chemical, which occurs naturally in cholera. Then, Megan Pomianek, a graduate student in the laboratory of Martin Semmelhack, a professor of chemistry at Princeton, determined how to make the molecule in the laboratory. Higgins used this chemical essentially to control cholera’s behavior in lab tests.

The team found that when CAI-1 is absent, cholera bacteria act as pathogens. But when the bacteria detect enough of this chemical, they stop making biofilms and releasing toxins, perceiving that it is time to leave the body instead. “Our findings demonstrate that if you supply CAI-1 to cholera, you can flip their switches to stop the attack,” Higgins said.

Chemist Helen Blackwell of the University of Wisconsin-Madison praised the study, calling it a breakthrough for quorum sensing research, and possibly for medical science.

Related: Entirely New Antibiotic Developed to Fight MRSAHow do antibiotics kill bacteria?Antibiotic Discovery StagnatesHacking Your Body’s Bacteria