Medicine

Scientists Save Child's Life By Growing Him New Skin (scientificamerican.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: The German doctors realized they had to do something drastic or their seven-year-old patient would die. The boy had escaped war-ravaged Syria with his parents, and a rare genetic disease had left him with raw, blistering sores over 80 percent of his body. His doctors in a children's burn unit tried everything they could to treat his illness, called junctional epidermolysis bullosa -- even grafting some skin from his father to see if it would heal the child's wounds. But his body rejected this. Finally, they e-mailed Michele De Luca, a researcher in Italy, to ask for help.

The doctors took a small sample of skin from one of the few places on the boy's body where it was not flaming red or flaking off, and sent it to De Luca. His team at the center used a virus to insert into the skin cells a correct copy of a gene called LAMB3; the boy's own defective copy had caused his epidermolysis bullosa. De Luca and his colleagues grew the skin cells over scaffolds in their lab to form large sheets, the way doctors often do for burn patients. In two surgeries in October and November 2015, the Italian and German teams covered the boy's limbs, sides and back with these sheets of fresh skin. After being too sick even to get out of bed before his surgeries, "he was standing up already by Christmas," De Luca says. In January 2016 the boy, whose name is not being released to protect his privacy, received a few more skin patches -- and in February he was released from the University Hospitals of the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

Space

SpaceX Rocket Engine Explodes During Test (space.com) 115

According to The Washington Post, a SpaceX rocket engine exploded Sunday (Nov. 5) at the company's test facility in McGregor, Texas. The explosion reportedly occurred during a "qualification test" of a Merlin engine, the type that powers SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket. Space.com reports: SpaceX has suspended engine testing while it investigates what caused the incident, which didn't injure anyone, the Post added. In a statement provided to the Post, SpaceX representatives said they didn't expect the explosion to affect the company's launch schedule. That schedule has been pretty packed this year. SpaceX has already launched 16 missions, all of them successful, in 2017 -- twice as many as its previous high in a calendar year. And all but three of these missions also involved landings of the Falcon 9 first stage, for eventual refurbishment and reuse.
NASA

NASA Is Working With Uber on Its Flying Taxi Project 51

Ride-hailing service Uber on Wednesday took a step forward in its plan to make autonomous "flying taxis" a reality, signing a contract with NASA to develop the software to manage them. From a report: Uber said at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon that it signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA for the development of "unmanned traffic management." This is NASA's push to figure out how unmanned aerial systems (UAS), such as drones that fly at a low altitude, can operate safely. Uber wants to make vertical take-off and landing vehicles. That will allow their flying cars to take off and land vertically. They will fly at a low altitude. This is the start-up's first partnership with a U.S. federal government agency. NASA is also working with other companies to develop traffic management for these low altitude vehicles. "UberAir will be performing far more flights on a daily basis than it has ever been done before. Doing this safely and efficiently is going to require a foundational change in airspace management technologies," Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber, said in a statement on Wednesday. "Combining Uber's software engineering expertise with NASA's decades of airspace experience to tackle this is a crucial step forward for Uber Elevate."
NASA

NASA Astronaut Dick Gordon, Pilot of Gemini and Apollo 12, Dies At 88 (astronautscholarship.org) 58

sconeu writes: Dick Gordon, pilot of Gemini 11 and command module pilot of Apollo 12, has died at the age of 88. Gordon was also slated to command the cancelled Apollo 18 mission. "Dick Gordon is an American hero, and a true renaissance man by any measure. He was an American naval officer and aviator, chemist, test pilot, NASA astronaut, professional football executive, oil and gas executive and generous contributor to worthy causes," said Curt Brown, board chairman of the Orlando-based Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and an astronaut and veteran of six space flights. "He was in a category all his own." The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation has a touching write-up that details Gordon's childhood and career successes. You can read the full article here.
Biotech

EPA Approves Release of Bacteria-Carrying Mosquitoes To 20 States (nature.com) 133

schwit1 writes: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved the use of a common bacterium to kill wild mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as dengue, yellow fever and Zika, Nature's news team has learned. On November 3rd, the agency told biotechnology start-up MosquitoMate that it could release the bacterium Wolbachia pipientis into the environment as a tool against the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Lab-reared mosquitoes will deliver the bacterium to wild mosquito populations. The decision -- which the EPA has not formally announced -- allows the company, which is based in Lexington, Kentucky, to release the bacteria-infected mosquitoes in 20 U.S. states and Washington DC.

MosquitoMate will rear the Wolbachia-infected A. albopictus mosquitoes in its laboratories, and then sort males from females. Then the laboratory males, which don't bite, will be released at treatment sites. When these males mate with wild females, which do not carry the same strain of Wolbachia, the resulting fertilized eggs don't hatch because the paternal chromosomes do not form properly. The company says that over time, as more of the Wolbachia-infected males are released and breed with the wild partners, the pest population of A. albopictus mosquitoes dwindles. Other insects, including other species of mosquito, are not harmed by the practice, says Stephen Dobson, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and founder of MosquitoMate.

Power

'Quark Fusion' Produces Eight Times More Energy Than Nuclear Fusion (futurism.com) 173

walterbyrd shares a report from Futurism: This new source of energy, according to researchers Marek Karliner and Jonathan Rosner, comes from the fusion of subatomic particles known as quarks. These particles are usually produced as a result of colliding atoms that move at high speeds within the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), where these component parts split from their parent atoms. It doesn't stop there, however, as these disassociated quarks also tend to collide with one another and fuse into particles called baryons. It is this fusion of quarks that Karliner and Rosner focused on, as they found that this fusion is capable of producing energy even greater than what's produced in hydrogen fusion. In particular, they studied how fused quarks configure into what's called a doubly-charmed baryon. Fusing quarks require 130 MeV to become doubly-charmed baryons, which, in turn, releases energy that's 12 MeV more energy. Turning their calculations to heavier bottom quarks, which need 230 MeV to fuse, they found that a resulting baryon could produce approximately 138 MeV of net energy -- about eight times more than what hydrogen fusion releases. The new study has been published in the journal Nature.
Earth

New Technology Should Be Neither Feared Nor Trusted (bloomberg.com) 61

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: How should we think about new and future technologies? The two main stances seem to be extreme optimism and extreme pessimism. A better approach would be careful planning and management. Optimists tend to overlook the fact that the technological successes of the past required a lot of social engineering before their benefits became widely shared. Countries like Maoist China and North Korea implemented perverse economic systems that withheld the bounty of modern technology from most of their citizens. And poor countries didn't really begin to beat poverty until decades after colonialism ended. Pessimists, meanwhile, often assume that new technologies can be stopped in their tracks by act of popular will. They probably can't. Even the most impoverished, repressive regimes of the 20th century adopted new technologies, and often suffered their worst consequences. Scientific research and invention, meanwhile, can be forbidden in one country or another, but probably not at the global level: Someone, somewhere, will study even the scariest ideas.

A better approach, then, is technology management. We should be as realistic as we can about each innovation's potential benefits and dangers. And instead of thinking about how to suppress new technologies, we should think about how to regulate them and channel them toward broad social benefit. Emerging technologies like genetic engineering and artificial intelligence are at our doorstep, and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. But letting them develop haphazardly entails large risks. Instead, government and industry need to be funding proactive efforts to bring them into widespread, well-regulated use. In the end, technology is what we choose to make of it.

Earth

The US Is Now the Only Country In the World To Reject the Paris Climate Deal 717

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Today, Syria announced that it would sign the Paris climate agreement -- a landmark deal that commits almost 200 countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming. With Nicaragua also joining the deal last month, the United States is now the only country in the world that opposes it. In June, President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord, unless it is renegotiated to be "fair" to the United States. But other countries in the deal, such as France, Germany, and Italy, said that's not possible. The Trump administration is also taking steps to roll back regulations passed under former President Barack Obama to achieve the emissions reduction goals set under the Paris deal. The U.S. is the second largest emitter of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the world after China. "With Syria's decision, the relentless commitment of the global community to deliver on Paris is more evident than ever," Paula Caballero, director of the climate change program at the World Resources Institute, told the Times. "The U.S.'s stark isolation should give Trump reason to reconsider his ill-advised announcement and join the rest of the world in tackling climate change."
Earth

Florida Attempts the Largest Hydraulic Restoration Project In the World To Save the Everglades (vice.com) 98

New submitter ar2286 shares a report from Motherboard: Florida is defined by its water -- the water flowing around it, through it, increasingly over it. But throughout the twentieth century, its major arteries of fresh water, which flowed from the Kissimmee River south of Orlando to Lake Okeechobee and down to the swampy Everglades, were permanently rerouted by the federal government and landowners to stop flooding, and make room for agriculture and housing in the southern part of the state. Now the state is working with the Army Corps of Engineers -- the government agency partly responsible for rerouting and draining water to begin with -- and the South Florida Water Management District to attempt the largest hydraulic restoration project in the world. And while some say the effort has turned Florida into a battleground, pitting sugar farmers against legislators and environmentalists, others are hoping this will finally right certain man-made wrongs and restore some balance to the state. If the government is able to fully fund the plan, and should dozens of contractors and state forces successfully carry it out, it could permanently change Florida. And set a precedent for inevitable restoration projects around the world, which are becoming increasingly crucial as climate change manifests in stronger storms and sea level rise. The state is embarking on such a massive restoration project because the aging levees and control gates surrounding Lake Okeechobee are at risk of failing during large storms and/or heavy rainfall. "The more rainwater that increases in Lake Okeechobee, the more pressure is on the lake, and that pressure can continue to build up and build up and build up and one day the levee can go," said Tammy Jackson-Moore, a Belle Glade resident who co-founded Guardians of the Glades, a nonprofit focused on community advocacy. "And we're talking about wiping out entire communities here." The rerouting has allowed for bursts of economic growth, but it does have its consequences. "The Everglades, the largest swath of subtropical wilderness in the country, is now half of its size circa 1920, and the ecosystem has deteriorated, losing wildlife and native flora," reports Motherboard. "Without a natural place to flow, stagnant water pushes toxic algae blooms into the rivers, and turns pristine ocean into sludgy waste."
Communications

Sleep Deprivation Disrupts Brain-Cell Communication, Study Finds (npr.org) 87

A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that sleep deprivation causes the bursts of electrical activity that brain cells use to communicate to become slower and weaker. "The finding could help explain why a lack of sleep impairs a range of mental functions, says Dr. Itzhak Fried, an author of the study and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles," reports NPR. From the report: The finding comes from an unusual study of patients being evaluated for surgery to correct severe epilepsy. As part of the evaluation, doctors place wires in the brain to find out where a patient's seizures are starting. That allows Fried and a team of scientists to monitor hundreds of individual brain cells, often for days. And because patients with epilepsy are frequently kept awake in order to provoke a seizure, the scientists had an ideal way to study the effects of sleep deprivation. In the study, all the patients agreed to categorize images of faces, places and animals. Each image caused cells in areas of the brain involved in perception to produce distinctive patterns of electrical activity. Then, four of the patients stayed up all night before looking at more images. And in these patients, "the neurons are responding slower," Fried says. "The responses are diminished, and they are smeared over longer periods of time." These changes impair the cells' ability to communicate, Fried says. And that leads to mental lapses that can affect not only perception but memory.
Piracy

US Court Grants ISPs and Search Engine Blockade of Sci-Hub (torrentfreak.com) 165

Sci-Hub, a scientific research piracy site home to thousands of research papers, has suffered another blow in a U.S. federal court. According to TorrentFreak, "The American Chemical Society has won a default judgment of $4.8 million for alleged copyright infringement against the site. In addition, the publisher was granted an unprecedented injunction which requires search engines and ISPs to block the platform." This comes after a $15 million fine was imposed on Sci-Hub by a New York federal judge earlier this year. From the report: Just before the weekend, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema issued a final decision which is a clear win for ACS. The publisher was awarded the maximum statutory damages of $4.8 million for 32 infringing works, as well as a permanent injunction. The injunction is not limited to domain name registrars and hosting companies, but expands to search engines, ISPs and hosting companies too, who can be ordered to stop linking to or offering services to Sci-Hub. The injunction means that Internet providers, such as Comcast, can be requested to block users from accessing Sci-Hub. That's a big deal since pirate site blockades are not common in the United States. The same is true for search engine blocking of copyright-infringing sites.

"Ordered that any person or entity in active concert or participation with Defendant Sci-Hub and with notice of the injunction, including any Internet search engines, web hosting and Internet service providers, domain name registrars, and domain name registries, cease facilitating access to any or all domain names and websites through which Sci-Hub engages in unlawful access to, use, reproduction, and distribution of ACS's trademarks or copyrighted works," the injunction reads.

United States

The Disappearing American Grad Student (nytimes.com) 268

There are two very different pictures of the students roaming the hallways and labs at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering. At the undergraduate level, 80 percent of the students are United States residents. But that number, The New York Times reports, falls below the 20 percent mark when you move to the graduate level (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). From the report: The Tandon School -- a consolidation of N.Y.U.'s science, technology, engineering and math programs on its Brooklyn campus -- is an extreme example of how scarce Americans are in graduate programs in STEM. Overall, these programs have the highest percentage of international students of any broad academic field. In the fall of 2015, about 55 percent of all graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences and engineering were from abroad, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board. In arts and humanities, the figure was about 16 percent; in business, a little more than 18 percent. The dearth of Americans is even more pronounced in hot STEM fields like computer science, which serve as talent pipelines for the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft: About 64 percent of doctoral candidates and almost 68 percent in master's programs last year were international students, according to an annual survey of American and Canadian universities by the Computing Research Association. In comparison, only about 9 percent of undergraduates in computer science were international students (perhaps, deans posit, because families are nervous about sending offspring who are barely adults across the ocean to study).
Space

China Plans to Also Launch Reusable Spaceplanes by 2020 (arstechnica.com) 92

Slashdot reader hackingbear writes: According to a statement from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, China's reusable spaceplane will launch in 2020. The spaceplane will be launched vertically by a winged rocket to orbit and each of them will be returned to the ground horizontally, according to Chinese media reports. The system is designed to be reusable in 24 hours and for at least 20 times, cutting launch costs to 1/10 of the current price... "Currently China is developing its own reusable earth-to-orbit space vehicles that can take off and land horizontally," Liu Shiquan, vice director of the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation, said. "We have already finished several crucial ground tests for engines and [other key components], yielding remarkable achievements."
Earth

Hole In The Ozone Layer Smallest In 29 Years (weather.com) 181

An anonymous reader quotes the Weather Channel: The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is the smallest it's been since 1988, NASA said. According to a press release, the hole in the Earth's ozone layer is 1.3 million square miles smaller than last year and 3.3 million square miles smaller than 2015... This year, the hole grew to 7.6 million square miles. NASA and NOAA scientists said warmer temperatures and a stormier upper atmosphere helped keep damaging chemicals chlorine and bromine from eating ozone from the layer that protects the Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet rays... The hole that hovers over Antarctica has been slowly recovering, scientists say, due to an international ban on harmful chemicals that were previously used in refrigerants and aerosols.

The hole was its largest in 2000 and measured 11.5 million square miles. Although recovery is underway, the size of the hole remains large compared to the 1980s, when the hole was first detected, NASA noted. And while there has been significant healing of the ozone layer in recent years, some scientists say full healing is a slow process and will not occur until sometime in the 22nd century, Yale Environment 360 reports. Others expect the Antarctic ozone hole to recover back to 1980 levels around 2070, NASA said.

Businesses

Jeff Bezos Just Sold $1.1 Billion in Amazon Stock (cnn.com) 67

An anonymous reader quotes CNN Money: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the newly minted richest person in the world, just sold more than $1 billion worth of his stock. The sale was made public in a filing posted Friday. In total, Bezos let go of one million shares for $1,097,803,365. Exactly how Bezos plans to spend those Benjamins wasn't clear. But it isn't unprecedented for him to sell such a large chunk. In May, he sold more than a million shares. A similar sale was executed in August 2016.

Even after his most recent sell off, Bezos still personally owns about a 16% of Amazon, which he founded in 1994. Bezos's large ownership stake helped vault him past Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates as the richest person in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire's Index... One possible destination for the cash Bezos just freed up is his commercial space company, Blue Origin. Earlier this year, Bezos told reporters at a space symposium that he sells about $1 billion per year worth of Amazon stock to fund the company, according to Reuters... Last month, Blue Origin Chief Executive Officer Bob Smith said he expects the first manned flight to take place by April 2019.

One Silicon Valley newspaper calls it the biggest stock sale ever.
Printer

3D Printing Doubles the Strength of Stainless Steel (sciencemag.org) 96

sciencehabit writes: Researchers have come up with a way to 3D print tough and flexible stainless steel, an advance that could lead to faster and cheaper ways to make everything from rocket engines to parts for nuclear reactors and oil rigs. The team designed a computer-controlled process to not only create dense stainless steel layers, but to more tightly control the structure of their material from the nanoscale to micron scale. That allows the printer to build in tiny cell wall-like structures on each scale that prevent fractures and other common problems. Tests showed that under certain conditions the final 3D printed stainless steels were up to three times stronger than steels made by conventional techniques and yet still ductile.
The work was done using a commercially-available 3D printer, according to Science magazine. "That makes it likely that other groups will be able to quickly follow their lead to make a wide array of high-strength stainless steel parts for everything from fuel tanks in airplanes to pressure tubes in nuclear power plants."
Space

Laika, the Pioneering Space Dog, Was Launched 60 Years Ago Today (space.com) 74

sqorbit writes: Sixty years ago, the space race was in full swing. Russia had sent Sputnik into space with much success. In an effort to push farther, they rushed sending a dog into space in a re-purposed Sputnik rocket. The mission launched with no clear solution to a safe re-entry. Within a few hours of launch, temperature controls failed, killing the female dog named Laika. Launched on November 3, 1957, it did not re-enter the earth's atmosphere until April 14, 1958. Laika was the first living creature to fly into orbit, Space.com reports. While Soviet publications at the time claimed that Laika died, painlessly, after a week in Earth's orbit, Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com writes that several Russian sources revealed decades later that the dog actually survived in orbit for four days and then died when the cabin overheated. "According to other sources, severe overheating and the death of the dog occurred only five or six hours into the mission," he writes. "With all systems dead, the spacecraft continued circling the Earth until April 14, 1958, when it re-entered the atmosphere after 2,570 orbits (2,370 orbits according to other sources) or 162 days in space. Many people reportedly saw a fiery trail of Sputnik 2 as it flew over New York and reached the Amazon region in just 10 minutes during its re-entry."
Space

Five New Asteroids Surprise Astronomers In Hubble Images (sciencemag.org) 33

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Five previously unknown asteroids in our solar system have photobombed new Hubble Space Telescope images. Astronomers spotted the space rocks -- plus another two that had been previously catalogued in images collected as part of the Frontier Fields project, which observed six clusters of galaxies billions of light-years away. When multiple exposures obtained at different times were stacked together to produce the image above, the asteroids showed up as trails because they had moved between exposures, and some of the asteroids were spotted more than once. The five new asteroids orbit within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Previous studies missed them because they're extremely faint
Earth

Massive Government Report Says Climate Is Warming and Humans Are the Cause (npr.org) 415

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: It is "extremely likely" that human activities are the "dominant cause" of global warming, according to the the most comprehensive study ever of climate science by U.S. government researchers. The climate report, obtained by NPR, notes that the past 115 years are "the warmest in the history of modern civilization." The global average temperature has increased by about 1.8 degree Fahrenheit over that period. Greenhouse gases from industry and agriculture are by far the biggest contributor to warming. The findings contradict statements by President Trump and many of his Cabinet members, who have openly questioned the role humans play in changing the climate. The report states that the global climate will continue to warm. How much, it says, "will depend primarily on the amount of greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide) emitted globally." Without major reductions in emissions, it says, the increase in annual average global temperature could reach 9 degrees Fahrenheit relative to pre-industrial times. Efforts to reduce emissions, it says, would slow the rate of warming.
Science

'Discovery of the Century': Mysterious Void Discovered In Egypt's Great Pyramid (nationalgeographic.com) 299

New submitter klgds writes: The cavity is the first major inner structure discovered in the pyramid since the 1800s. Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza -- one of the wonders of the ancient world, and a dazzling feat of architectural genius -- contains a hidden void at least a hundred feet long, scientists said. The space's dimensions resemble those of the pyramid's Grand Gallery, the 153-foot-long, 26-foot-tall corridor that leads to the burial chamber of Khufu, the pharaoh for whom the pyramid was built. However, it remains unclear what lies within the space, what purpose it served, or if it's one or multiple spaces. The void is the first large inner structure discovered within the 4,500-year-old pyramid since the 1800s -- a find made possible by recent advances in high-energy particle physics. The results were published in the journal Nature. "This is definitely the discovery of the century," says archaeologist and Egyptologist Yukinori Kawae, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. "There have been many hypotheses about the pyramid, but no one even imagined that such a big void is located above the Grand Gallery."
ISS

The International Space Station Is Getting Its First Printer Upgrade in 17 Years (mashable.com) 174

Lance Ulanoff, writing for Mashable: Somewhere, 254 miles above us, an astronaut is probably printing something. Ever since the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed its first residents in November of 2000, there have been printers on board. Astronauts use them to print out critical mission information, emergency evacuation procedures and, sometimes, photos from home. According to NASA, they print roughly 1,000 pages a month on two printers; one is installed on the U.S. side of the ISS, the other in the Russian segment. ISS residents do all this on 20-year-old technology. "When the printer was new, it was like 2000-era tech and we had 2000-era laptop computers. Everything worked pretty good," recalled NASA Astronaut Don Pettit, who brought the first printer up to the ISS. But "the printer's been problematic for the last five or six years," said Pettit who's spent a total of one year on the station. It's not that the Space Station has been orbiting with the same printer since Justin Timberlake was still N'Sync. NASA had dozens of this printer and, as one failed, they'd send up another identical model. But now it's time for something truly new. In 2018, NASA will send two brand new, specialized printers up to the station. However, figuring out the right kind of printer to send was a lot more complicated than you'd probably expect. NASA has turned to HP for its IT supply and needs. The agency requires the following things in its printer: print and handle paper management in zero gravity, handle ink waste during printing, be flame retardant, and be power efficient. HP, Mashable reports, has recommended the HP Envy 5600, its all-in-one (printer, scanner, copier, fax) device that retails for $129.99. The model has been modified, according to the report.
Math

Scientists Have Mathematical Proof That It's Impossible To Stop Aging (sciencealert.com) 177

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Alert: Mathematically speaking, multicellular organisms like us will always have to deal with a cellular competition where only one side will win. And ultimately, that means our vitality will always come out as the loser. We have a pair of researchers from the University of Arizona to blame for this depressing conclusion, who crunched the numbers on a hypothesis involving the weeding out of unfit cells and found it amounted to a catch-22 situation. Aging -- and all of the biological changes that come with it -- is more or less the result of cells slowing down and losing their functions. But what if there was a way to encourage the more active cells to stick around at the expense of their sluggish siblings? Surely if we knocked off those old cells we could keep making pigments and collagen a little longer. Researchers have pinned hopes on reversing the inevitable decay of biochemistry by repairing DNA or extending the shrinking bits of chromosome called telomeres, for example. While it's good in theory, there is a catch. Another feature of aging is a number of cells start to populate like there's no tomorrow, reproducing in uncontrolled ways that look too close to cancer for comfort. According to the researchers, this means we're damned either way.

The way we grow old poses something of a mystery. If replicating biology is good enough to continue for generations, why do our own cells wind down after just a few decades? A simple answer is evolution isn't strong enough to weed out genes that only cause us grief after we've popped out a few offspring. But this model of aging adds a new element to the existing hypothesis -- even if evolution did select for eternal youth, competition inside our own bodies would see us to an inevitable grave. In other words, since multicellular organisms are the cumulative effect of bunches of cooperating cells, we logically can't have it both ways -- if you clear the way for 'younger' cells to keep your skin baby-smooth, you're just asking for the big C.
The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Earth

The Asteroid That Wiped Out Dinosaurs Plunged Earth Into Catastrophic Winter (bbc.com) 103

The asteroid impact roughly 66 million years ago that wiped out three-quarters of plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs, dropped temperatures globally below freezing for several years. The new assessment, reported in the journal Geographic Research Letters, gives scientists a much clearer picture of the climate catastrophe following the event. BCC reports: The UK geophysicist was the co-lead investigator on the 2016 project to drill into what remains of the impactor's crater under the Gulf of Mexico. She and colleagues spent several weeks retrieving the rock samples that would allow them to reconstruct precisely how the Earth reacted to being punched by a high-velocity space object. Their study suggests the asteroid approached the surface from the north-east, striking what was then a shallow sea at an oblique angle of 60 degrees. Roughly 12km wide and moving at about 18km/s, the stony impactor instantly excavated and vaporized thousands of billions of tonnes of rock. This material included a lot of sulphur-containing minerals such as gypsum and anhydrite, but also carbonates which yielded carbon dioxide. The team's calculations estimate the quantities ejected upwards at high speed into the upper atmosphere included 325 gigatones of sulphur (give or take 130Gt) and perhaps 425Gt of carbon dioxide (plus or minus 160Gt). The CO2 would eventually have a longer-term warming effect, but the release of so much sulphur, combined with soot and dust, would have had an immediate and very severe cooling effect.
NASA

NASA Wants Private Company To Take Over Spitzer Space Telescope (spacenews.com) 37

schwit1 writes: NASA has issued a request for proposals from private companies or organizations to take over the operation of the Spitzer Space Telescope after 2019. SpaceNews reports: "NASA's current plans call for operating Spitzer through March of 2019 to perform preparatory observations for the James Webb Space Telescope. That schedule was based on plans for a fall 2018 launch of JWST, which has since been delayed to the spring of 2019. Under that plan, NASA would close out the Spitzer mission by fiscal year 2020. That plan was intended to save NASA the cost of running Spitzer, which is currently $14 million a year. The spacecraft itself, though, remains in good condition and could operating well beyond NASA's current plan. 'The observatory and the IRAC instrument are in excellent health. We don't have really any issues with the hardware,' said Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Spitzer project manager, in a presentation to the committee Oct. 18. IRAC is the Infrared Array Camera, an instrument that continues operations at its two shortest wavelengths long after the spacecraft exhausted the supply of liquid helium coolant. The spacecraft's only consumable is nitrogen gas used for the spacecraft's thrusters, and Storrie-Lombardi said the spacecraft still had half its supply of nitrogen 14 years after launch." The way a private organization could make money on this is to charge astronomers and research projects for observation time. This could work, since there is usually a greater demand for research time than available observatories.
Earth

Every Other Summer Will Shatter Heat Records Within a Decade (vice.com) 322

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Think of the stickiest, record-hot summer you've ever experienced, whether you're 30 or 60 years old. In 10 years or less, that miserable summer will happen every second year across most of the U.S. and Canada, the Mediterranean, and much of Asia, according to a study to be published in the open access journal Earth's Future. By the 2030s, every second summer over almost all of the entire Northern hemisphere will be hotter than any record-setting hot summer of the past 40 years, the study found. By 2050, virtually every summer will be hotter than anything we've experienced to date. Record hot summers are now 70 times more likely than they were in the past 40 years over the entire Northern hemisphere, the peer-reviewed study found. What does all this mean? Heat alerts will be increasing, cities will have to employ aggressive cooling strategies most summers, and in places like South Asia, it will be too dangerous to work outside, Francis Zwiers, director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at Canada's University of Victoria, said.
Japan

Can Japan Burn Flammable Ice For Energy? (cnn.com) 153

dryriver writes: Japan is a country that currently has to import 90% of its fuels for energy generation, having very little in the way of oil, coal or natural gas reserves in the country. Since the Fukushima disaster, its 50-plus nuclear reactors have been mostly idle. This makes Japan one of the least self-sufficient countries in terms of energy generation in the developed world. But there is an untapped energy resource that Japan has in abundance: ice that has large quantities of methane trapped in it. These ice crystals hold a remarkable quantity of natural methane gas. It is estimated that one cubic meter of frozen gas hydrate contains 164 cubic meters of methane. Japan has so far spent over $1 billion on research and development efforts in order to find a way to efficiently extract the methane from the ice. Where is this methane rich ice located? Engineers have so far focused on Nankai Trough, a long, narrow depression 50 kilometers off the coast of central Japan, which had been extensively surveyed over many years. Analysis of extracted core samples and seismic data has revealed that 1.1 trillion cubic meters of methane -- enough to meet Japan's gas needs for more than a decade -- lies below the floor of the trough. Some experts think that if an efficient method is found to extract methane from flammable ice, it could change the energy map of the entire world. Flammable ice has either been found, or is suspected to be present in large quantities, off the coastlines of all 5 continents in the world (the linked article has a map showing the currently known locations). Ten years from now the price of energy around the world may thus not be set by how much oil, coal or natural gas costs at that point in time, but rather by how much methane extraction from flammable ice costs.
Communications

Scientists Prove Emoticons Are Not Universally Understood (qz.com) 122

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: The most recent such study, published Oct. 24 in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, examined how emotions expressed in symbols and pictures are understood in three nations with varying degrees of internet connectivity and access: Japan, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Psychologists from the University of Tokyo tested subjects on how well they recognized emotions in emoticons and photographs. Participants across cultures could read emotion accurately in images of real people regardless of race -- but symbolic tech expression was not universally comprehensible. The study subjects were shown photographs of happy, neutral, and sad Caucasians, Asians, and Africans and told to describe the emotions expressed in the images. Generally, participants accurately assessed the feelings expressed across the board. The researchers noted one difference: African participants tended to confuse Asian neutral and sad faces, "perhaps due to lack of exposure to the out-group [Asian] faces," they suggest.

When it came to symbols, however, the scientists found clear cultural differences in emotion recognition. Subjects from all three countries were given a tablet, on which they were asked to scroll through a series of emoticons. They were shown emoticons in the Japanese style, with happiness, sadness, and neutrality expressed in the eyes; in a western style with emotion expressed in the mouth; and "smiley face" emoticons (pictured above). The Japanese subjects fluently read emotion in emoticons, whereas subjects from Cameroon and Tanzania found emoticons utterly mystifying at similar rates. This was true both for urban and rural dwellers in both African nations. The researchers believe this is due to the varying levels of internet exposure in the three countries.

Space

Entrepreneurial Space Age Began In 2009, Says Report (arstechnica.com) 67

"In July 2009, SpaceX launched its first commercial payload -- a 50kg Earth observation satellite for Malaysia -- which flew into space aboard a privately developed rocket," reports Ars Technica. "According to a new space investment report that will be published Tuesday by the Space Angels, an angel fund and a venture capital fund focused on space, which marked a key inflection point between the "governmental" space age and the "entrepreneurial" space age." From the report: "With that launch, SpaceX significantly lowered the barriers to entry in the space industry," the fund's chief executive, Chad Anderson, writes in the new report. "By vertically integrating, the company was able to drastically reduce the cost to get to orbit. But what deserves at least as much credit is their decision to publish their pricing, which fundamentally changed the way we do business in space. This transparency enabled would-be space entrepreneurs to develop a business plan and raise equity financing based on those cost assumptions."

From 2009 through September 2017, the report finds that $12 billion in equity investments have been made in space, with annual amounts increasing significantly in 2015 and beyond to more than $2 billion per year. At $10 billion, launch services, landers, and satellites have accounted for the bulk of this investment since 2009. Aside from the SpaceX launch that year, other data supports the year 2009 as the beginning of an entrepreneurial space age in which the private sector began making investments to return profits from space-based activities. About 250 space ventures have received non-government equity funding, the report states, and, of those, 88 percent have been funded since 2009.

AI

MIT Researchers Trained AI To Write Horror Stories Based On 140,000 Reddit Posts (qz.com) 37

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: Shelley is an AI program that generates the beginnings of horror stories, and it's trained by original horror fiction posted to Reddit. Designed by researchers from MIT Media Lab, Shelley launched on Twitter on Oct. 21. Shelley, named after Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, is interactive. After the program tweets a few opening lines, it asks people on Twitter to continue the story, and if the story is popular, it responds to those responses. Using information from 140,000 stories from Reddit's r/nosleep, Shelley produces story beginnings that range in creepiness, and in quality. There's some classic "scary stuff," like a narrator who thinks she's alone and then sees eyes in the dark, but also premises one can only imagine are Reddit-user-inspired, like family porn.
Security

New VibWrite System Uses Finger Vibrations To Authenticate Users (bleepingcomputer.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bleeping Computer: Rutgers engineers have created a new authentication system called VibWrite. The system relies on placing an inexpensive vibration motor and receiver on a solid surface, such as wood, metal, plastic, glass, etc.. The motor sends vibrations to the receiver. When the user touches the surface with one of his fingers, the vibration waves are modified to create a unique signature per user and per finger. Rutgers researchers say that VibWrite is more secure when users are asked to draw a pattern or enter a code on a PIN pad drawn on the solid surface. This also generates a unique fingerprint, but far more complex than just touching the surface with one finger. During two tests, VibWrite verified users with a 95% accuracy and a 3% false positive rate. The only problem researchers encountered in the live trials was that some users had to draw the pattern or enter the PIN number several times before they passed the VibWrite authentication test. Besides improvements to the accuracy with which VibWrite can detect finger vibrations, researchers also plan to look into how VibWrite will behave in outdoor environments to account for varying temperatures, humidity, winds, wetness, dust, dirt, and other conditions. This new novel user authentication system is described in full in a research paper entitled "VibWrite: Towards Finger-input Authentication on Ubiquitous Surfaces via Physical Vibration."
Communications

Algorithm Can Identify Suicidal People Using Brain Scans (wired.com) 87

An anonymous reader quotes a report from WIRED: In a study published today in Nature Human Behavior, researchers at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh analyzed how suicidal individuals think and feel differently about life and death, by looking at patterns of how their brains light up in an fMRI machine. Then they trained a machine learning algorithm to isolate those signals -- a frontal lobe flare at the mention of the word "death," for example. The computational classifier was able to pick out the suicidal ideators with more than 90 percent accuracy (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). Furthermore, it was able to distinguish people who had actually attempted self-harm from those who had only thought about it. In today's study, the researchers started with 17 young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 who had recently reported suicidal ideation to their therapists. Then they recruited 17 neurotypical control participants and put them each inside an fMRI scanner. While inside the tube, subjects saw a random series of 30 words. Ten were generally positive, 10 were generally negative, and 10 were specifically associated with death and suicide. Then researchers asked the subjects to think about each word for three seconds as it showed up on a screen in front of them. "What does 'trouble' mean for you?" "What about 'carefree,' what's the key concept there?" For each word, the researchers recorded the subjects' cerebral blood flow to find out which parts of their brains seemed to be at work.
Space

SpaceX Lands the 13th Falcon 9 Rocket of the Year In Flames (theverge.com) 106

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida this afternoon and, while the rocket successfully delivered the Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, it managed to catch fire after landing on one of SpaceX's autonomous barges. The Verge reports: That rocket's mission [was] to send a satellite known as Koreasat-5A into space, where it will hang above Earth for 15 years while providing communications bandwidth for Korea and Southern Asia. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket successfully delivered Koreasat-5A to its designated orbit, marking the the company's 16th successful mission of the year -- twice the number of successful missions in 2016. Shortly after liftoff, the first stage of the rocket returned to Earth and landed (flamboyantly) in the Atlantic Ocean on one of SpaceX's autonomous barges. (The fires eventually went out.) It was the 13th successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket this year, the 15th in a row, and the 19th overall.
Earth

Carbon Pollution Touched 800,000 Year Record in 2016, WMO Says (bloomberg.com) 354

Carbon dioxide levels surged to their highest level in at least 800,000 years because of pollution caused by humans and a strong El Nino event, according to the World Meteorological Organization. From a report: Concentrations of the greenhouse gas increased at a record speed in 2016 to reach an average of 403.3 parts per million, up from 400 parts per million a year earlier, the WMO said in a statement on Monday warning of "severe ecological and economic disruptions." The WMO said the last time the Earth had a comparable concentration of CO2s, the temperature of the planet was 2 degrees to 3 degrees Celsius warmer and sea levels were 10 meters to 20 meters higher than now.
Math

How Data Science Powered the Search for MH370 (hpe.com) 133

"In the absence of physical evidence, scientists are employing powerful computational tools to attempt to solve the greatest aviation mystery of our time: the disappearance of flight MH370." Slashdot reader Esther Schindler shared this article from HPE Insights: Satellite communications provider Inmarsat announced it had found recorded signals in its archives that MH370 had sent for another six hours after it disappeared. The plane had been aloft and flying for that whole time -- but where had it gone? As Inmarsat scientists examined the signals, they saw that what they had was not data such as text messages or location information. Rather, the signals contained metadata: information about the signal itself. This was recorded as the satellite automatically contacted the plane's communications system every hour to see if it was still logged on. Bafflingly, whoever had taken the plane hadn't used the satcom system to communicate with the outside world, but had switched it off and then on again, leaving it able to exchange hourly "pings" with the satellite. Some of the metadata related to extremely subtle variations in the frequency of the signal. "We're talking about changes as big as one part in a billion," says Inmarsat scientist Chris Ashton.

Nobody had tried to use this kind of data to try to locate an airplane before. At first, Ashton's team didn't know if the attempt would work. But painstakingly, over the course of weeks, the team figured out how the movement of the plane, the orbital wobble of the satellite, and the electronics within the satcom system all interacted to create the data values that had been received. "We had to create the model from scratch," Ashton says. Their work revealed that the plane had flown into the remote southern Indian Ocean. They didn't know where exactly. But since there are no islands in that part of the world, it was impossible that anyone could have survived. For the first time in history, hundreds of people were declared legally dead based on mathematics alone.

Then mathematician Dr. Neil Gordon led a team from the Defense Science and Technology Group "to extract a path from a subset of the Inmarsat data called the Burst Timing Offset. This measured how quickly the aircraft responded each time the satellite pinged it, and was used to determine the distance between the satellite and the plane." They ultimately generate "a probabilistic 'heat map' of the plane's most likely resting places using a technique called Bayesian analysis. These calculations allowed the DSTG team to draw a box 400 miles long and 70 miles across, which contained about 90 percent of the total probability distribution.
Power

SLAC Uses Nobel Prize-Winning Technique To Investigate Battery Fires (stanford.edu) 17

An anonymous reader quotes an announcement from SLAC: Scientists from Stanford University and the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have captured the first atomic-level images of finger-like growths called dendrites that can pierce the barrier between battery compartments and trigger short circuits or fires... This is the first study to examine the inner lives of batteries with cryo-electron microscopy, or cryo-EM, a technique whose ability to image delicate, flash-frozen proteins and other "biological machines" in atomic detail was honored with the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry... The ability to see this level of detail for the first time with cryo-EM will give scientists a powerful tool for understanding how batteries and their components work at the most fundamental level and for investigating why high-energy batteries used in laptops, cell phones, airplanes and electric cars sometimes fail, the researchers said...

In cryo-EM, samples are flash-frozen by dipping them into liquid nitrogen, then sliced for examination under the microscope. You can freeze a whole coin-cell battery at a particular point in its charge-discharge cycle, remove the component you're interested in and see what is happening inside that component at an atom-by-atom scale. You could even create a stop-action movie of battery activity by stringing together images made at different points in the cycle... Zooming in, they used a different technique to look at the way electrons bounced off the atoms in the dendrite, revealing the locations of individual atoms in both the crystal and its solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) coating. When they added a chemical commonly used to improve battery performance, the atomic structure of the SEI coating became more orderly, and they think this may help explain why the additive works.

Biotech

Can Science Make Alcohol Safer? (scientificamerican.com) 107

Long-time Slashdot reader Zorro was the first to spot this story. Scientific American reports: Could there be a "liver-friendly" vodka? One company claims its proprietary blend of additives reduces stress on the body... The researchers concluded that consuming the alcohol with the additives -- glycyrrhizin, derived from licorice; D-mannitol, a sugar alcohol; and potassium sorbate, a preservative -- may support improved liver health compared with drinking alcohol alone. Marsha Bates, a distinguished research professor and director of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, said the study design "seemed appropriate." But, she added, study itself was small, with only 12 healthy men and women, and "doesn't really provide any information of what the long-term effects of consuming alcohol with this additive would be. It's a positive preliminary study but certainly does not provide a firm basis for speculating about long-term impact."

Functional or not, Harsha Chigurupati needs approval from federal regulators before he can tout curative powers on a label... Specifically, Chigurupati is seeking approval to make the claim that his blend, known as NTX for "No Tox," provides "antioxidant and inflammatory support" and "reduces the risk of alcohol-induced liver diseases," among other claims... Chigurupati said his goal is not to enable people to drink more, but to drink with less physical harm.

The claim "leaves some experts deeply skeptical," adds the article, while 33-year-old Chigurupati admits that an earlier formula "tasted terrible and it actually burned my mouth." But his company later developed a formula which he says tasted good and is easier on the liver. "I don't believe in abstinence," Chigurupati told the Wall Street Journal. "What I do believe in is using technology to make life better. I'm not going to stop drinking, so why not make it safer?"
Moon

India, China, and Japan Are All Planning Moon Missions (upi.com) 114

schwit1 shares an article from UPI: India will make its second mission to the moon in 2018, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced this week. The Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft consists of an orbiter, lander and rover configuration "to perform mineralogical and elemental studies of the lunar surface," the ISRO said... Several other countries, including China and Japan, are planning lunar expeditions in the coming years -- partly to better understand the moon's environmental conditions for the potential of human settlements...

According to Popular Mechanics, the ISRO is attempting to make the lunar landing on a budget of $93 million, which is about the same cost of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket that's scheduled for launch by the end of this year. The Falcon rocket, though, is only going into orbit -- and a $93 million price tag for a lunar landing could have impact on other countries' space plans.

India landed a spacecraft on the moon in 2008, and plans to complete this second lunar landing by March.
Medicine

NotPetya Outbreak Left Merck Short of HPV Vaccine Gardasil (securityledger.com) 63

chicksdaddy shares a report from The Security Ledger: The NotPetya malware infection shut down pharmaceutical giant Merck's production of the pediatric vaccine GARDASIL last June, forcing the company to borrow the drug from a stockpile maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to meet demand, The Security Ledger reports. The anecdote was contained in a quarterly filing by Merck with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Friday. That filing also showed that the company continues to suffer financial fallout from the outbreak of the NotPetya malware in June, reducing both sales and revenue for the quarter by hundreds of millions of dollars. In its quarterly 8-k filing, Merck said that revenue for the quarter was "unfavorably impacted" by around $135 million due to "lost sales in certain markets related to the cyber-attack." Sales in the third quarter of 2017 were also reduced by around $240 million, which Merck chalked up to production shutdowns resulting from NotPetya. In a chilling insight into the extent of the disruption the malware caused to Merck's operations, the company disclosed that part of its quarterly losses were linked to the interruption of its production of GARDASIL, a vaccine used to prevent Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is linked to certain cancers and other diseases. To make up for what it described as "overall higher demand than originally planned," Merck was forced to borrow the vaccine from a stockpile maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the company said.
Space

SpaceX Eyes 19 Launches In 2017 (arstechnica.com) 50

SpaceX has managed to launch fifteen rockets this year as a result of its more efficient production flow over last year, a maturing Falcon 9 rocket, and an experienced workforce. On Monday, the company will go for its 16th launch of the year, doubling its previous record. It plans to launch its 19th rocket before year's end. Ars Technica reports: This year has seen a number of firsts for the company -- first reflight of a Falcon 9 booster, first reuse of a Dragon cargo spacecraft, first national security payload, and a remarkable dozen landings. But probably the biggest achievement has been finally delivering on the promise of a high flight rate. For years, competitors in the global launch industry have noted, with skepticism, that SpaceX has been unable to achieve higher flight rates and fly out its lengthy manifest. Those concerns appeared to have some merit, especially after SpaceX endured difficult financial years in 2015 and 2016, when the company lost two Falcon 9 rockets (one during launch and the other during a ground test) along with a payload. However, competitors worried, if SpaceX did ever figure things out, the company could become a "steamroller" with its lower cost flight opportunities.

On Monday, weather permitting, SpaceX will attempt to launch the Koreasat 5A communications satellite for a South Korean company. The launch window for the Kennedy Space Center-based liftoff opens at 3:34pm ET. After this, it's likely that SpaceX will launch two or three (possibly more) missions in 2017, bringing the company's tally for the year to 19 missions. (That would be one shy of the company's total for 2014, 2015, and 2016 combined).

Space

First Extrasolar Object Observed Racing Through Our Solar System (space.com) 133

Enigma2175 writes: For the first time, scientists have observed an object they believe came from outside our solar system. The object is in a hyperbolic orbit that will send it back into interstellar space. From Space.com: "The object, known as A/2017 U1, was detected last week by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. 'It's long been theorized that such objects exist -- asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system -- but this is the first such detection,' Chodas added. 'So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it.' It's unclear what exactly this thing is. When A/2017 U1 was first spotted, it was thought to be a comet (and was therefore given the moniker C/2017 U1). But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma -- the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet's core -- so the object's name was amended to its current asteroidal designation."
Medicine

Scientists Find a Better Way To Wash Pesticides Off Your Apples (cnet.com) 138

According to a new study, the best way to reduce pesticides from your supermarket apple is to use a baking soda solution. The discovery was made by a team of scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They compared the effectiveness of plain tap water, a commercial bleach solution and a baking soda/water mix in removing pesticides from apples. CNET reports: The scientists started with organic Gala apples and applied the fungicide thiabendazole and the insecticide phosmet before testing the different washing liquids. "The baking soda solution was the most effective at reducing pesticide," a release on the study notes. "After 12 and 15 minutes, 80 percent of the thiabendazole was removed, and 96 percent of the phosmet was removed, respectively." The researchers say the industry-standard approach of washing fruit in a bleach solution for two minutes after harvest is not an effective way to completely remove pesticides. They also found the fungicide thiabendazole penetrated into the apple peel much more than the insecticide. Apple lovers would need to remove the peel to also get rid of the pesticide that wasn't washed off with the baking soda solution. The researchers published the findings this week in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Medicine

Monsanto Attacks Scientists After Studies Show Trouble For Weedkiller Dicamba (npr.org) 60

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Dicamba, an old weedkiller that is being used in new ways, has thrust Kevin Bradley, a professor of weed science at the University of Missouri, and a half-dozen other university weed scientists into the unfamiliar role of whistleblower, confronting what they believe are misleading and scientifically unfounded claims by one of the country's biggest seed and pesticide companies: Monsanto. The tensions between Monsanto and the nation's weed scientists actually began several years ago, when Monsanto first moved to make dicamba the centerpiece of a new weedkilling strategy. The company tweaked the genes in soybeans and cotton and created genetically modified varieties of those crops that can tolerate doses of dicamba. (Normally, dicamba kills those crops.) This allowed farmers to spray the weedkiller directly on their soybean or cotton plants, killing the weeds while their crops survived. It's an approach that Monsanto pioneered with crops that were genetically modified to tolerate glyphosate, or Roundup. After two decades of heavy exposure to glyphosate, however, devastating weeds like Palmer amaranth, or pigweed, developed resistance to it. So farmers are looking for new weedkilling tools. Dicamba, however, has a well-known defect. It's volatile; it tends to evaporate from the soil or vegetation where it has been sprayed, creating a cloud of plant-killing vapor that can spread in unpredictable directions. It happens more in hot weather, and Monsanto's new strategy inevitably would mean spraying dicamba in the heat of summer. Monsanto and two other chemical companies, BASF and DuPont, announced that they had solved this problem with new "low-volatility" formulations of dicamba that don't evaporate as easily. Yet the companies -- especially Monsanto -- made it difficult for university scientists to verify those claims with independent tests before the products were released commercially.
Education

Many Junior Scientists Need To Take a Hard Look at Their Job Prospects (nature.com) 152

In its careers section this week, science journal Nature surveyed more than 5,700 early-career scientists worldwide who are working on PhDs. Three-quarters of them, they told the journal, think it's likely that they will pursue an academic career when they graduate. How many of them will succeed? The editorial board of the journal wrote in a column published on Wednesday. Most PhD students will have to look beyond academia for a career, the editorial board added. From the article: Statistics say these young researchers will have a better chance of pursuing their chosen job than the young footballers. But not by much. Global figures are hard to come by, but only three or four in every hundred PhD students in the United Kingdom will land a permanent staff position at a university. It's only a little better in the United States. Simply put, most PhD students need to make plans for a life outside academic science. And more universities and PhD supervisors must make this clear. That might sound like an alarmist and negative attitude for the International Weekly Journal of Science. But it has been evident for years that international science is training many more PhD students than the academic system can support. Most of the keen and talented young scientists who responded to our survey will probably never get a foot in the door. Of those who do, a sizeable number are likely to drift from short-term contract to short-term contract until they become disillusioned and look elsewhere.
Science

New Science Suggests the Ocean Could Rise More -- and Faster -- Than We Thought (washingtonpost.com) 204

Chris Mooney, writing for the Washington Post: Climate change could lead to sea level rises that are larger, and happen more rapidly, than previously thought, according to a trio of new studies that reflect mounting concerns about the stability of polar ice. In one case, the research suggests that previous high end projections (PDF) for sea level rise by the year 2100 -- a little over three feet -- could be too low, substituting numbers as high as six feet at the extreme if the world continues to burn large volumes of fossil fuels throughout the century (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled). "We have the potential to have much more sea level rise under high emissions scenarios," said Alexander Nauels, a researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia who led one of the three studies. His work, co-authored with researchers at institutions in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany, was published Thursday in Environmental Research Letters. The results comprise both novel scientific observations -- based on high resolution seafloor imaging techniques that give a new window on past sea level events -- and new modeling techniques based on a better understanding of Antarctic ice. Further reading: Sea levels to rise 1.3m unless coal power ends by 2050, report says (The Guardian).
Science

CERN Scientists Conclude that the Universe Should Not Exist (ign.com) 456

Scientists at CERN are bemused as to why the universe exists, according to a new study. From a report, shared by a reader: Recent discoveries suggest that there's a perfect symmetry between matter and antimatter - meaning it's not clear why they didn't annihilate each other upon the birth of the universe. CERN's latest study sought to find out whether different magnetic properties accounted for matter's seeming victory after the Big Bang, but found another point of symmetry. Essentially, going by our findings so far, there simply shouldn't be a universe. Further reading: Universe shouldn't exist, CERN physicists conclude - Cosmos Magazine.
Math

The Geometry of Islamic Art Becomes a Treasure of a Game (arstechnica.com) 213

Sam Machkovech from Ars Technica reviews the game Engare, describing it as a "clever, deceptively simple, and beautiful rumination on geometry and Islamic art-making traditions." The game consists of relatively simple puzzles and a freeform art toy that unlocks its puzzles' tools to allow you to make whatever patterns you please. From the report: The game, made almost entirely by 23-year-old Iranian developer Mahdi Bahrami, starts with a 2D scene of a circle repeatedly traveling along a line. Above this, an instructional card shows a curved-diagonal line. Drop a dot on the moving circle, the game says, and it will generate a bold line, like ink on a page. As the ball (and thus, your dot) rolls, the inked line unfurls; if you put the dot on a different part of the circle, then your inked line may have more curve or angle to it, based on the total motion of the moving, rotating circle. Your object is to recreate this exact curved-diagonal line. If your first ink-drop doesn't do the trick, try again. Each puzzle presents an increasingly complex array of moving and rotating shapes, lines, and dots. You have to watch the repeating patterns and rotations in a particular puzzle to understand where to drop an ink dot and draw the demanded line. At first, you'll have to recreate simple turns, curves, and zig-zags. By the end, you'll be making insane curlicues and rug-like super-patterns.

But even this jaded math wiz-kid couldn't help but drop his jaw, loose his tongue, and bulge his eyes at the first time Engare cracked open its math-rich heart. One early puzzle (shown above) ended with its seemingly simple pattern repeating over and over and over and over. Unlike other puzzles, this pattern kept drawing itself, even after I'd fulfilled a simple line-and-turn pattern. And with each pass of the drawing pattern, driven by a spinning, central circle, Engare drew and filled a new, bright color. This is what the game's creator is trying to shout, I thought. This is his unique, cultural perspective. This looks like the Persian rugs he saw his grandmother weave as a child.

Medicine

New York State Bans E-Cigarettes Everywhere Traditional Cigarettes Are Prohibited (usatoday.com) 541

An anonymous reader quotes a report from USA Today: New York state is banning electronic cigarettes indoors everywhere that traditional tobacco cigarettes are prohibited, such as restaurants, bars and other workplaces. The ban goes into effect in 30 days, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Clean Indoor Air Act on Monday. About 70% of the state's cities already ban e-cigarettes, so the statewide policy captures the rest, according to the American Lung Association. Cuomo signed legislation in July that banned e-cigarettes in public and private schools. The industry, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at $2.5 billion per year, contends that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional tobacco products. Smokers say inhaling the nicotine through a vapor produced by the devices helps them quit traditional cigarettes. But the New York State Health Department warned that vaping carries its own risks because the aerosol emissions can include formaldehyde, cadmium found in batteries, benzene found in gasoline and the industrial solvent toluene.
Medicine

Anti-Aging Stem Cell Treatment Proves Successful In Early Human Trials (newatlas.com) 84

An anonymous reader quotes a report from New Atlas: The results of two human clinical trials into a stem cell therapy that can reverse symptoms of age-associated frailty have been published, and the indications are that this landmark treatment is both safe and strikingly effective in tackling key factors in aging. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a particular type of adult stem cell generating a great deal of interest in the world of science. This new MSC treatment is targeted at reducing the effects of frailty on senior citizens. This is the first anti-aging stem cell treatment directed specifically at the problem of age-associated frailty to move close to a final FDA approval stage. The treatment derives human mesenchymal stem cells from adult donor bone marrow and in these clinical trials involves a single infusion in patients with an average age of 76. Both Phase 1 and Phase 2 human trials have demonstrated the treatment to have no adverse health effects.

Although the two human trials were ostensibly designed to just demonstrate safety they do offer remarkable results in efficacy as well, paving the way for larger, Phase 3 clinical trials. In the first trial 15 frail patients received a single MSC infusion collected from bone marrow donors aged between 20 and 45 years old. Six months later all patients demonstrated improved fitness outcomes, tumor necrosis factor levels and overall quality of life. The second trial was a randomized, double blind study with placebo group. Again no adverse affects were reported and physical improvements were noted by the researchers as "remarkable." The next stage for the research is to move into an expanded Phase 2b clinical trial involving 120 subjects across 10 locations. After that a final, large randomized Phase 3 clinical trial will be the only thing holding the treatment back from final public approval.
The results of the Phase 1 clinical trial were recently published in The Journals of Gerontology. The results of the Phase 2 clinical trial were recently published in The Journals of Gerontology. Further reading available via University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.
NASA

Astronaut Paul Weitz Dies At 85; Veteran of Skylab and Shuttle Missions 15

NPR reports the death of NASA astronaut Paul Weitz, who spent nearly a month in orbit on the first manned Skylab mission in 1973 and flew a decade later as mission commander on the maiden voyage of the Space Shuttle Challenger. He was 85. From the report: Weitz died in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Monday; he had been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer. Weitz was born in Erie, Pa., and graduated from Penn State. He joined the Navy and became an aviator and test pilot, eventually rising to the rank of captain. He was chosen in NASA's fifth round of astronaut selection in 1966, as the agency was ramping up for the Apollo moon program. On his first space flight, he served as pilot on Skylab-2 (SL-2), along with Apollo 12 veteran Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr., and Joseph Kerwin, also a rookie on SL-2. The mission to fix Skylab, which had suffered significant damage during the space station's launch, is still considered one of the most difficult and dangerous in the annals of spaceflight. The three astronauts had to conduct multiple space walks to repair the damaged craft, deploying a giant reflective parasol to act as a sunshade in place of a damaged thermal shield. Weitz logged two hours and 11 minutes in space walks and the crew of the mission established a new world record for time in space -- 672 hours, 49 minutes.
Science

Bird Feeders Might Be Changing Bird Beaks (axios.com) 116

An anonymous reader shares a report: Bird beaks might be evolving to better fit bird feeders. A study of great tits in the UK, where feeders are common, found the bird's beaks have grown over the last 26 years, that British birds had longer beaks than those in the Netherlands, and that birds with genes for longer beaks were more likely to visit feeders, per Science News. Scientists have known that environmental changes, like El Nino, can influence the evolution of animals. Now, it appears something as simple as bird feeders can do the same. The scientists looked at the beaks of 2,322 great tits from the UK and the Netherlands, and also examined their genes. They tagged birds with gene variants for short and long beaks and tracked their feeding habits. What they found: The British birds had longer beaks and were more likely to have genes associated with beak length.

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