Posts about amazing

Life After the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident

Silent Spring by Lauren Monaghan, Cosmos

Ever since, a 30 km ‘exclusion zone’ has existed around the contaminated site, accessible to those with special clearance only. It’s quite easy, then, to conjure an apocalyptic vision of the area; to imagine an eerily deserted wasteland, utterly devoid of life.

But the truth is quite the opposite. The exclusion zone is teeming with wildlife of all shapes and sizes, flourishing unhindered by human interference and seemingly unfazed by the ever-present radiation. Most remarkable, however, is not the life buzzing around the site, but what’s blooming inside the perilous depths of the reactor.

Sitting at the centre of the exclusion zone, the damaged reactor unit is encased in a steel and cement sarcophagus. It’s a deathly tomb that plays host to about 200 tonnes of melted radioactive fuel, and is swarming with radioactive dust.

But it’s also the abode of some very hardy fungi which researchers believe aren’t just tolerating the severe radiation, but actually harnessing its energy to thrive.

“Our findings suggest that [the fungi] can capture the energy from radiation and transform it into other forms of energy that can be used for growth,” said microbiologist Arturo Casadevall from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York, USA.

Taken together, the researchers think their results do indeed hint that fungi can live off ionising radiation, harnessing its energy through melanin to somehow generate a new form of biologically usable growing power.

If they’re right, then this is powerful stuff, said fungal biologist Dee Carter from the University of Sydney. The results will challenge fundamental assumptions we have about the very nature of fungi, she said.

It also raises the possibility that fungi might be using melanin to secretly harvest visible and ultraviolet light for growth, adds Casadevall. If confirmed, this will further complicate our understanding of these sneaky organisms and their role in ecosystems.

Pretty amazing stuff. It really is great all that nature gives us to study and learn about using science.

Related: Radiation Tolerant BacteriaNot Too Toxic for LifeBacterium Living with High Level RadiationWhat is an Extremophile?

Phun Physics

Coolest science toy ever

Phun is without question the greatest computer toy in the history of the universe, if this had been around when I was a kid I would be a frickin genius by now. You don’t need things any more. It’s extremely easy to use. As a starter tip, turn gravity off when you’re attaching stuff to the background (right click after selecting “affix” tool).

Very cool. Get your Phun (2D physics software) for free. Phun is a Master of Science Theises by Computing Science student Emil Ernerfeldt.

Some other very cool stuff: Cool Mechanical Simulation SystemScratch from MITWhat Kids can LearnLego Autopilot First FlightAwesome Cat Cam

Great Self Portrait

photo of astronaut's faceplate reflecting earth

Photo by, and of, Astronaut Clay Anderson, Expedition 15 flight engineer. He used a digital camera to expose a photo of his helmet visor during the mission’s third planned session of extravehicular activity (EVA) on the International Space Station (15 August 2007). Also visible in the reflections in the visor are various components of the station and a blue and white portion of Earth. During the 5-hour, 28-minute spacewalk, Anderson and astronaut Rick Mastracchio (out of frame), STS-118 mission specialist, relocated the S-Band Antenna Sub-Assembly from Port 6 (P6) to Port 1 (P1) truss, installed a new transponder on P1 and retrieved the P6 transponder.

NASA provides their content, photos etc. online in an open access spirit. When linking to content (especially images) it is best to provide context (and with the internet the easiest way to do is so is relevant links). You can find many low resolution pictures of the image above around the internet. Trying to find the context around the image is not so easy – it took me quite awhile to do so. I try to provide the context and links. Lately some more sites will link to some original sources but this is still done far to infrequently.

There are also still far too many pointy haired bosses (PHB) making decisions to break the web by killing pages: web pages must live forever. Those PHB’s decisions do reduce the great benefit of linking but it is still worth doing for those cases where web sites are managed by people with the knowledge and ability to manage an internet resource properly.

Photo: NASA – high resolution version

Related: Van Gogh self portraitMars Rovers Getting Ready for Another AdventureNASA Robotics Academy

Parasite Rex

Parasite Rex is a great book by Carl Zimmer (one of the bloggers listed in the Curious Cat directory of science blogs). This is the first book read as part of my specific plan to read more about bacteria, cells, virus, genes and the like.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing this blog is that I have focused much more on cool things I read. And over time the amazing things I posted about related to these topics made me realize I should put some focused effort to reading more on these topics. Some of the posts that sparked that idea: Tracking the Ecosystem Within UsInner Life of a Cell: Full VersionWhere Bacteria Get Their Genes, People Have More Bacterial Cells than Human Cells, Biological Molecular MotorsEnergy Efficiency of DigestionOld Viruses Resurrected Through DNAMidichloria mitochondriiMicrobesUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsHow Bacteria Nearly Destroyed All LifeNew Understanding of Human DNASoil Could Shed Light on Antibiotic ResistanceSymbiotic relationship between ants and bacteria

Parasite Rex was a great place to start. Carl Zimmer is a great writer, and the details on how many parasites there are and how interconnected those parasites are to living systems and how that has affected, and is affecting, us is amazing. And the next book I am reading is also fantastic: Good Germs, Bad Germs. Here is one small example from Parasite Rex, page 196-7:

A person who dies of sickle cell anemia is less likely to pass on the defective gene, and that means the disease should be exceedingly rare. But it’s not – one in four hundred American blacks has sickle sell anemia, and one in ten carries a single copy of the defective gene. The only reason the gene stays in such high circulation is that is also happens to be a defense against malaria.

Malaria is a parasite. One of the amazing things with repeated examples in the book were parasites that seemed to have extremely complicated life cycles (that don’t seem like a great strategy to prosper but obviously work). Where they grow in one life form (an insect or mammal or whatever) but must leave that life form for some other specific life form for the next stage in life (they cannot have descendants without doing so…). Seems like a crazy way to evolve but it happens over and over again.
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People Have More Bacterial Cells than Human Cells

Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones

All the bacteria living inside you would fill a half-gallon jug; there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than human cells

The infestation begins at birth: Babies ingest mouthfuls of bacteria during birthing and pick up plenty more from their mother’s skin and milk—during breast-feeding, the mammary glands become colonized with bacteria. “Our interaction with our mother is the biggest burst of microbes that we get,”

there are estimated to be more than 500 species living at any one time in an adult intestine, the majority belong to two phyla, the Firmicutes (which include Streptococcus, Clostridium and Staphylococcus), and the Bacteroidetes (which include Flavobacterium).

probiotics – dietary supplements containing potentially beneficial microbes – have been shown to boost immunity. Not only do gut bacteria “help protect against other disease-causing bacteria that might come from your food and water,” Huffnagle says, “they truly represent another arm of the immune system.”

But the bacterial body has made another contribution to our humanity – genes. Soon after the Human Genome Project published its preliminary results in 2001, a group of scientists announced that a handful of human genes – the consensus today is around 40 – appear to be bacterial in origin.

How cool is science? Very, I think :-)

Related: Tracking the Ecosystem Within UsBeneficial BacteriaEnergy Efficiency of DigestionLarge Number of Bacteria on our SkinWhere Bacteria Get Their GenesAmazing Science: Retroviruses

Amazing Science: Retroviruses

One of the great things about writing this blog is I find myself more focused on reading about interesting science. Retroviruses are very interesting and frankly amazing. Darwin’s Surprise by Michael Specter, The New Yorker:

A retrovirus stores its genetic information in a single-stranded molecule of RNA, instead of the more common double-stranded DNA. When it infects a cell, the virus deploys a special enzyme, called reverse transcriptase, that enables it to copy itself and then paste its own genes into the new cell’s DNA. It then becomes part of that cell forever; when the cell divides, the virus goes with it. Scientists have long suspected that if a retrovirus happens to infect a human sperm cell or egg, which is rare, and if that embryo survives – which is rarer still – the retrovirus could take its place in the blueprint of our species, passed from mother to child, and from one generation to the next, much like a gene for eye color or asthma.

When the sequence of the human genome was fully mapped, in 2003, researchers also discovered something they had not anticipated: our bodies are littered with the shards of such retroviruses, fragments of the chemical code from which all genetic material is made. It takes less than two per cent of our genome to create all the proteins necessary for us to live. Eight per cent, however, is composed of broken and disabled retroviruses, which, millions of years ago, managed to embed themselves in the DNA of our ancestors. They are called endogenous retroviruses, because once they infect the DNA of a species they become part of that species. One by one, though, after molecular battles that raged for thousands of generations, they have been defeated by evolution. Like dinosaur bones, these viral fragments are fossils. Instead of having been buried in sand, they reside within each of us, carrying a record that goes back millions of years. Because they no longer seem to serve a purpose or cause harm, these remnants have often been referred to as “junk DNA.” Many still manage to generate proteins, but scientists have never found one that functions properly in humans or that could make us sick.

How amazing is that? I mean really think about it: it is incredible. The whole article is great. Related: Old Viruses Resurrected Through DNADNA for once species found in another species’ GenesNew Understanding of Human DNARetrovirus overview (Tulane)Cancer-Killing Virus
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One Species’ Genome Discovered Inside Another’s

Video describing genome inside genome Watch video of Professor Werren describing the genome-in-a-genome at the University of Rochester.

More incredible gene research. Scientists at the University of Rochester and the J. Craig Venter Institute have discovered a copy of the genome of a bacterial parasite residing inside the genome of its host species. The research, reported in today’s Science, also shows that lateral gene transfer—the movement of genes between unrelated species—may happen much more frequently between bacteria and multicellular organisms than scientists previously believed, posing dramatic implications for evolution.

Such large-scale heritable gene transfers may allow species to acquire new genes and functions extremely quickly, says Jack Werren, a principle investigator of the study. If such genes provide new abilities in species that cause or transmit disease, they could provide new targets for fighting these diseases.

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The results also have serious repercussions for genome-sequencing projects. Bacterial DNA is routinely discarded when scientists are assembling invertebrate genomes, yet these genes may very well be part of the organism’s genome, and might even be responsible for functioning traits.

“This study establishes the widespread occurrence and high frequency of a process that we would have dismissed as science fiction until just a few years ago,” says W. Ford Doolittle, Canada Research Chair in Comparative Microbial Genomics at Dalhousie University, who is not connected to the study. “This is stunning evidence for increased frequency of gene transfer.”

Related: Opossum Genome Shows ‘Junk’ DNA is Not JunkBdelloid Rotifers Abandoned Sex 100 Million Years AgoScientists discover new class of RNAWhere Bacteria Get Their GenesNew Understanding of Human DNAOld Viruses Resurrected Through DNA

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Tracking the Ecosystem Within Us

Gut Check: Tracking the Ecosystem Within Us

For more than 100 years, scientists have known that humans carry a rich ecosystem within their intestines. An astonishing number and variety of microbes, including as many as 400 species of bacteria, help humans digest food, mitigate disease, regulate fat storage, and even promote the formation of blood vessels. By applying sophisticated genetic analysis to samples of a year’s worth baby poop, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have now developed a detailed picture of how these bacteria come and go in the intestinal tract during a child’s first year of life.

Before birth, the human intestinal tract is sterile, but babies immediately begin to acquire the microbial denizens of the gut from their environment — the birth canal, mothers’ breast, and even the touch of a sibling or parent. Within days, a thriving microbial community is established and by adulthood, the human body typically has as many as ten times more microbial cells than human cells.

The results, said Palmer, were striking: the group found that the intestinal microbial communities varied widely from baby to baby – both in terms of which microbes were present and in how that composition changed over time. That finding, she said, is important because it helps broaden the definition of healthy microbial colonization in a baby.

Another intriguing observation, Palmer noted, was a tendency for sudden shifts in the composition of the infants’ intestinal microbial communities over time as different species of bacteria ebbed and flowed.

I find this area and this study fascinating. I’m not exactly sure why this study and the incredibly significant positive bacteria for human life news doesn’t get more notice. Oh well I guess there are not cool pictures of robots or scary stories of potential threats to those reading which makes the news less interesting to some. Still I find this stuff amazing: Energy Efficiency of DigestionBeneficial BacteriaSkin BacteriaHacking Your Body’s Bacteria for Better HealthWhere Bacteria Get Their Genes

Awesome Cat Cam

CatCam - photo of the famous cat photographer CatCam - cat photographer on the run CatCam - cat photographer get picture of another cat

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CatCam by Juergen Perthold – this great project involved taking a digital camera and some additional equipment to create a camera that his cat wore around his neck which took pictures every 3 minutes. The pictures are great. The cat got photos of several other cats and seemed to like cars.

See more cool gadgets, See our other popular posts and our cat related posts.

Sometimes I have some challenging ideas, or crazy like some other people would say. This time I thought about our cat who is the whole day out, returning sometimes hungry sometimes not, sometimes with traces of fights, sometimes he stay also the night out. When he finally returns, I wonder where he was and what he did during his day. This brought me to the idea to equip the cat with a camera. The plan was to put a little camera around his neck which takes every few minutes a picture. After he is returning, the camera would show his day.

The VistaQuest made it very easy for me, because it is able to supply my circuit also if switched off. This is because of an internal DC/DC converter which boosts the voltage from the 1.5V battery to 3.3V. The DC/DC converter is always working because of the internal SRAM which holds the pictures. I just had to hook the microcontroller to the internal camera supply.

Well, I thought the hardest part is done by developing the software and soldering the controller board. But it is more the housing to protect the camera. You can not imagine what kind of requirements have to be fulfilled if you want to equip your cat with a camera. I built a small housing out of plastic plates and put it on the collar of the cat for evaluation purpose. This housing was last seen as the cat walked out of the door… Probably the wires I used for attaching were not strong enough. Or someone released the cat from the interesting looking piece.

For the second try I used the plastic package of a child toy (Kinderueberraschung), put a stone in it for loading it with some weight and attached it again to the cat collar. This time the part returned – dirty and scratched outside, water inside. What the hell is the cat doing !? This raised the requirements for the camera protective housing a lot

Big moment no. 1: attach the collar with the camera to the cat. The reaction was not very happy but finally accepted. Reality check passed :-)

This is my favorite home engineering project. The concept is great. The explanation of the technology is great. The adjustment to real life situations is great. The end result (the photos) is great. This wins the non-existent Curious Cat Cool Contraption award. If someone doesn’t start selling prefabricated cat cameras I will be very surprised (if I was more enterprising I would do it myself). Maybe J. Perthold will, in any event he should inspire many to try making their own.

Related: The Cat and a Black BearAutomatic Cat FeederThe sub-$1,000 UAV Project
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Cool Mechanical Simulation System

Cool device from MIT: A Shrewd Sketch Interpretation and Simulation Tool.

We aim to create a tool that allows the engineer to sketch a mechanical system as she would on paper, and then allows her to interact with the design as a mechanical system, for example by seeing a simulation of her drawing. We have built an early incarnation of such a tool, called ASSIST, which allows a user to sketch simple mechanical systems and see simulations of her drawings in a two-dimensional kinematic simulator.

via: Back to the Drawing Board

What Kids can Learn

This is a fascinating interview discussing what children can learn if given a computer and little, if any, instruction. Very Cool. Links on the progress since this interview are at the end of the post.

Q: This is your concept of minimally invasive education?

A: Yes. It started out as a joke but I’ve kept using the term … This is a system of education where you assume that children know how to put two and two together on their own. So you stand aside and intervene only if you see them going in a direction that might lead into a blind alley.

The interview explores what happened when:

Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree.

What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him.

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