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Researchers Create Plant-Circuit Hybrid ( 39

sciencehabit writes: Researchers have crafted flexible electronic circuits inside a rose. Eventually such circuitry may help farmers eavesdrop on their crops and even control when they ripen. The advance may even allow people to harness energy from trees and shrubs not by cutting them down and using them for fuel, but by plugging directly into their photosynthesis machinery. The researchers used "an organic electronic building block called PEDOT-S:H. Each of these building blocks consists of a short, repeating chain of a conductive organic molecule with short arms coming off each link of the chain. Each of the arms sports a sulfur-containing group linked to a hydrogen atom. Berggren's group found that when they placed them in the water, the rose stems readily pulled the short polymer chains up the xylem channels (abstract). ... The upshot was that the myriad short polymer chains quickly linked themselves together into continuous strings as long as 10 centimeters. The researchers then added electronic probes to opposite ends of these strings, and found that they were, in fact, wires, conducting electricity all down the line."

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission To International Space Station ( 69

An anonymous reader writes: NASA has placed its first mission order for SpaceX to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil. SpaceX is now in a race with Boeing, who received a similar order in May, to see which private space company can deliver astronauts to the ISS first. NASA said, "Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America's human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory." They anticipate dramatic reductions in cost for launching astronauts to orbit compared to similar missions aboard Russian rockets. "Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions. A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time."

Investigation Reveals How Easy It Is To Hijack a Science Journal Website ( 18

sciencehabit writes: With 20,000 journal websites producing millions of articles — and billions of dollars — it was probably inevitable that online criminals would take notice. An investigation by Science magazine finds that an old exploit is being used on academic publishers: domain snatching and website spoofing. The trick is to find the tiny number of journals whose domain registration has lapsed at any given time. But how do they track their prey? Science correspondent and grey-hat hacker John Bohannon (the same reporter who submitted hundreds of computer-generated fake scientific papers in a journal sting) proposes a method: Scrape the journal data from Web of Science (curated by Thomson Reuters) and run WHOIS queries on their URLs to generate an automatic hijack schedule.

He found 24 journals indexed by Thomson Reuters whose domains were snatched over the past year. Most are under construction or for sale, but 2 of them now host fake journals and ask for real money. And to prove his point, Bohannon snatched a journal domain himself and Rickrolled it. (It now hosts an xkcd cartoon and a link to the real journal.) Science is providing the article describing the investigation free of charge, as well as all the data and code. You can hijack a journal yourself, if you're so inclined: An IPython Notebook shows how to scrape Web of Science and automate WHOIS queries to find a victim. Science hopes that you return the domains to the real publishers after you snatch them.


You Can Look Forward To 8 More Years of Leap Second Problems ( 143

itwbennett writes: As previously discussed here, the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) met "for nearly the entire month of November, and one of the hot-button issues [was] what to do about the leap second." But, as they did at the 2012 conference, the WRC voted to postpone the decision — not just until the next WRC in 2019, but until the one after, in 2023, while the International Telecommunication Union conducts further studies into the impact of tinkering with the definition of Coordinated Universal Time.

First Images Ever Taken of a Planet Being Formed, 450 Light-Years From Earth ( 36

Zothecula writes: Of the many new exoplanets discovered over the past two decades, all have been identified as established, older planets – none have been acknowledged as newly-forming protoplanets. Now scientists working at the Keck observatory have spied just such a planet in the constellation of Taurus, some 450 light-years from Earth (abstract), that is only just beginning its life, collecting matter and spinning into a brand new world.

The Information Theory of Life ( 90

An anonymous reader writes with this story about Michigan State University Professor Cristop Adami and his quest to answer how life arose with mathematics. From the Quanta story: "Christoph Adami does not know how life got started, but he knows a lot of other things. His main expertise is in information theory, a branch of applied mathematics developed in the 1940s for understanding information transmissions over a wire. Since then, the field has found wide application, and few researchers have done more in that regard than Adami, who is a professor of physics and astronomy and also microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University. He takes the analytical perspective provided by information theory and transplants it into a great range of disciplines, including microbiology, genetics, physics, astronomy and neuroscience. Lately, he's been using it to pry open a statistical window onto the circumstances that might have existed at the moment life first clicked into place.

To do this, he begins with a mental leap: Life, he argues, should not be thought of as a chemical event. Instead, it should be thought of as information. The shift in perspective provides a tidy way in which to begin tackling a messy question. In the following interview, Adami defines information as 'the ability to make predictions with a likelihood better than chance,' and he says we should think of the human genome — or the genome of any organism — as a repository of information about the world gathered in small bits over time through the process of evolution. The repository includes information on everything we could possibly need to know, such as how to convert sugar into energy, how to evade a predator on the savannah, and, most critically for evolution, how to reproduce or self-replicate."

FDA Signs Off On Genetically Modified Salmon Without Labeling ( 514

kheldan writes: Today, in a historic decision, the FDA approved the marketing of genetically-engineered salmon for sale to the general public, without any sort of labeling to indicate to consumers they've been genetically altered. According to the article: "Though the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) gives the FDA the authority to require mandatory labeling of foods if there is a material difference between a GE product and its conventional counterpart, the agency says it is not requiring labeling of these GE fish 'Because the data and information evaluated show that AquAdvantage Salmon is not materially different from other Atlantic salmon.' In this case, the GE salmon use an rDNA construct composed of the growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon under the control of a promoter from another type of fish called an 'ocean pout.' According to the FDA, this tweak to the DNA allows the salmon to grow to market size faster than non-GE farm-raised salmon."
The Military

ISIS's Hunt For a Bogus Superweapon 330

schnell writes: The New York Times Magazine has a fascinating story about ISIS efforts to get their hands on a mysterious and powerful superweapon called Red Mercury. The problem is that by consensus among scientific authorities, Red Mercury doesn't exist. And yet that hasn't stopped the legend of Red Mercury, touted by sources from Nazi conspiracy theorists to former Manhattan Project scientists, as having magical properties. Middle East weapons traders have even spun elaborate stories for its properties (ranging from thermonuclear explosive properties to sexual enhancement) and origins and sources (from Soviet weapons labs to Roman graveyards). What can account for the enduring myth of Red Mercury — is it rampant scientific illiteracy, the power of urban legend and shared myth, or something else?

NASA Selects Universities To Develop Humanoid Robot Astronauts ( 21

MarkWhittington writes: NASA announced that it is sending copies of its R5 Valkyrie humanoid robot to two universities for software upgrades and other research and development. The effort is part of a continuing project to develop cybernetic astronauts that will assist human astronauts in exploring other worlds. The idea is that robot astronauts would initially scout potentially hazardous environments, say on Mars, and then actively collaborate with their human counterparts in exploration. NASA is paying each university chosen $250,000 per year for two years to perform the R&D. The university researchers will have access to NASA expertise and facilities to perform the upgrades. Spoiler alert: the robots are both going to Greater Boston, to teams at MIT and Northeastern University respectively.

Animal Rights Group Targets NIH Director's Home ( 222

sciencehabit writes: Late last month, hundreds of people in two Washington, D.C., suburbs received a letter in the mail claiming that one of their neighbors was tied to animal abuse at a government lab. Science has learned that the letters, sent by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), targeted U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and NIH researcher Stephen Suomi, revealing their home addresses and phone numbers and urging their neighbors to call and visit them. The tactic is the latest attempt by the animal rights group to shut down monkey behavioral experiments at Suomi's Poolesville, Maryland, laboratory, and critics say it crosses the line.

MIT Helping NASA Build Valkyrie Robots For Space Missions ( 35

An anonymous reader writes: NASA announced that MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is one of just two institutions that will receive "R5," a six-foot, 290-pound humanoid robot also known as "Valkyrie" that will serve on future space missions to Mars and beyond. A group led by CSAIL principal investigator Russ Tedrake will develop algorithms for the robot as part of NASA's upcoming Space Robotics Challenge, which aims to create more dexterous autonomous robots that can help or even take the place of humans "extreme space" missions. While R5 was initially designed to complete disaster-relief maneuvers, its main goal is now to prove itself worthy of even trickier terrain — deep space exploration.

Scientists Grow Working Vocal Cord Tissue In the Lab ( 25

sciencehabit writes that tissue engineers have for the first time grown vocal cords from human cells. Science reports: "For the first time, scientists have created vocal cord tissue starting with cells from human vocal cords. When tested in the lab, the bioengineered tissue vibrated—and even sounded—similar to the natural thing. The development could one day help those with severely damaged vocal cords regain their lost voices. 'It’s an exciting finding because those patients are the ones we have very few treatment options for,' says Jennifer Long, a voice doctor and scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, head and neck surgery department, who wasn’t involved in the study."

How Bill Nye Insulted NASCAR Fans About the Sport Being the "Anti-NASA" ( 387

MarkWhittington writes: Bill Nye, the former science guy and current head of the Planetary Society, is very depressed about NASA and NASCAR, according to a story in Business Insider. He believes that the red-state yokels pay too much attention to NASCAR, which employs gas guzzling cars in races, and not enough to NASA, which employs cutting edge and environmentally correct technology, to explore the universe. However, it is a meme that the space agency itself once disagreed with. Indeed, NASA has suggested that the exploration of space is like NASCAR only with rocket ships instead of souped up, high powered cars

First Liquid-Cooling Laser Could Advance Biological Research ( 55

Zothecula writes: In a world where lasers are sci-fi's weapon of choice for melting away an enemy spaceship, researchers at the University of Washington have swum against the current and produced the first laser capable of cooling liquids. " They demonstrated that the laser could refrigerate saline solution and cell culture media that are commonly used in genetic and molecular research. To achieve the breakthrough, the UW team used a material commonly found in commercial lasers but essentially ran the laser phenomenon in reverse. They illuminated a single microscopic crystal suspended in water with infrared laser light to excite a unique kind of glow that has slightly more energy than that amount of light absorbed. This higher-energy glow carries heat away from both the crystal and the water surrounding it." The technology could be especially useful for slowing down single cells and allowing scientists to study biological processes as they happen.

AMA Calls For Ban On Direct-To-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs ( 305 writes: The Associated Press reports that the American Medical Association has called for a ban on direct-to-consumer ads for prescription drugs and implantable medical devices, saying they contribute to rising costs and patients' demands for inappropriate treatment. According to data cited in an AMA news release, ad dollars spent by drugmakers have risen to $4.5 billion in the last two years, a 30 percent increase. Physicians cited concerns that a growing proliferation of ads is driving demand for expensive treatments despite the clinical effectiveness of less costly alternatives. "Today's vote in support of an advertising ban reflects concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially-driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices," said the AMA's Patrice A. Harris. "Direct-to-consumer advertising also inflates demand for new and more expensive drugs, even when these drugs may not be appropriate."

The AMA also calls for convening a physician task force and launching an advocacy campaign to promote prescription drug affordability by demanding choice and competition in the pharmaceutical industry, and greater transparency in prescription drug prices and costs. Last month, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report saying that a high cost of prescription drugs remains the public's top health care priority. In the past few years, prices on generic and brand-name prescription drugs have steadily risen and experienced a 4.7 percent spike in 2015, according to the Altarum Institute Center for Sustainable Health Spending.