Hugh Pickens writes "Karen Kaplan reports in the LA Times that Craig Venter is making plans to send a DNA sequencer to Mars. Assuming there is DNA to be found on the Red Planet – a big assumption, to be sure – the sequencer will decode its DNA, beam it back to Earth, put those genetic instructions into a cell and then boot up a Martian life form in a biosecure lab. Venter's 'biological teleporter' (as he dubbed it) would dig under the surface for samples to sequence. If they find anything, 'it would take only 4.3 minutes to get the Martians back to Earth,' says Venter, founder of Celera Genomics and the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). 'Now we can rebuild the Martians in a P4 spacesuit lab.' It may sound far-fetched, but the notion of equipping a future Mars rover to sequence the DNA isn't so crazy, and Venter isn't the only one looking for Martian DNA. MIT research scientist Christopher Carr is part of a group that's 'building a a miniature RNA/DNA sequencer to search for life beyond Earth,' according to the MIT website 'The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes.' SETG will test the hypothesis that life on Mars, if it exists, shares a common ancestor with life on Earth. Carr told Tech Review that one of the biggest challenges is shrinking Ion Torrent's 30-kilogram machine down to a mere 3 kg – light enough to fit on a Mars rover."
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An anonymous reader writes "At its headquarters in Longueuil, Que. Friday, the Canadian Space Agency rolled out a fleet of about a half-dozen prototype rovers that are the forerunners of vehicles that may one day explore the moon or Mars. The agency said the terrestrial rovers bring it one step closer to developing the next generation for space exploration."
scibri writes "Scientists have learned how to discover what you are dreaming about while you sleep. A team of Japanese researchers scanned the brains of three people as they slept, and compared the scans to those of the same people looking at photos of common objects. They were then able to tell, with 75% — 80% accuracy, if one of those images appeared in a dream."
MTorrice writes "A beam of electrons can pick up and carry nanoparticles, according to a new study (abstract). The so-called electronic tweezers could help scientists in diverse tasks, such as building up new materials nanoparticle-by-nanoparticle, and measuring the forces between nanoparticles and living cells, the researchers say. In the past, scientists have manipulated microsized particles, including single cells, using a beam of laser light called optical tweezers. But the force required to trap a particle with optical tweezers increases as the particle gets smaller, making grappling with nanoparticles difficult. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory developed an alternative to optical tweezers by modifying a transmission electron microscope, which produces images by passing a stream of electrons through a sample." Reader Sven-Erik adds news of a tractor beam generated with laser light that can pull microscopic particles over distances of 30 micrometers (abstract).
ananyo writes "A first analysis of the ice that froze onto the drillbit used in last February's landmark drilling to a pristine Antarctic lake shows no native microbes came up with the lake water, according to Sergey Bulat of Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute (Russia). The very uppermost layer of Lake Vostock appears to be 'lifeless' so far, says Bulat, but that doesn't mean the rest of it is. Bulat and his colleagues counted the microbes present in the ice sample and checked their genetic makeup to figure out the phylotypes. They counted fewer than 10 microbes/ml — about the same magnitude they would expect to find in the background in their clean room."
call -151 writes "Many years ago, a human-generated intentionally nonsense paper was accepted by the (prominent) literary culture journal Social Text. In August, a randomly-generated nonsense mathematics paper was accepted by one of the many low-tier 'open-access' research mathematics journals. The software Mathgen, which generated the accepted submission, takes as inputs author names (or those can be randomly selected also) and generates nicely TeX'd and impressive-sounding sentences which are grammatically correct but mathematically disconnected nonsense. This was reviewed by a human, (quickly, for math, in 12 days) and the reviewers' comments mention superficial problems with the submission (PDF). The references are also randomly-generated and rather hilarious. For those with concerns about submitting to lower-tier journals in an effort to promote open access, this is not a good sign!"
rippeltippel writes "The Independent reports on a scientific breakthrough which would allow us to synthesize petrol from thin air. Quoting from the article: 'Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced five liters of petrol since August when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapor. The company hopes that within two years it will build a larger, commercial-scale plant capable of producing a ton of petrol a day. It also plans to produce green aviation fuel to make airline travel more carbon-neutral. ... Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: "It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I've been up there myself and seen it. The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process. It's a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles. It uses well-known and well-established components but what is exciting is that they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work." Although the process is still in the early developmental stages and needs to take electricity from the national grid to work, the company believes it will eventually be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages. "We've taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol," said Peter Harrison, the company's chief executive, who revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London."
ananyo writes "Climate records from a Japanese lake are set to improve the accuracy of carbon dating, which could help to shed light on archaeological mysteries such as why Neanderthals became extinct. Carbon dating is used to work out the age of organic material. But the technique assumes that the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere was constant — any variation would speed up or slow down the clock. Since the 1960s, scientists have started accounting for the variations by calibrating the clock against the known ages of tree rings. The problem is that tree rings provide a direct record that only goes as far back as about 14,000 years. Now, using sediment from bed of Lake Suigetsu, west of Tokyo, researchers have pushed the calibration limit back much further. Two distinct sediment layers have formed in the lake every summer and winter over tens of thousands of years. The researchers collected roughly 70-meter core samples from the lake and painstakingly counted the layers to come up with a direct record stretching back 52,000 years. The re-calibrated clock could help to narrow the window of key events in human history. Take the extinction of Neanderthals, which occurred in western Europe less than 30,000 years ago. Archaeologists disagree over the effects changing climate and competition from recently arriving humans had on the Neanderthals' demise. The more accurate carbon clock should yield better dates for any overlap of humans and Neanderthals, as well as for determining how climate changes influenced the extinction of Neanderthals."
An anonymous reader writes "Looks like the evolution in multi-core computing is something nature has already figured out. Dolphins will sleep one core while the other remains vigilant, running background tasks necessary for survival. From the article: 'The scientists wrote: "From an anthropomorphic viewpoint, the ability of the dolphin to continuously monitor its environment for days without interruption seems extreme. However, the biological, sensory and cognitive ecology of these animals is relatively unique and demanding. If dolphins sleep like terrestrial animals, they might drown. If dolphins fail to maintain vigilance, they become susceptible to predation. As a result, the apparent 'extreme' capabilities these animals possess are likely to be quite normal, unspectacular, and necessary for survival from the dolphin's perspective."'"
SchrodingerZ writes "Last week the Mars Curiosity Rover spotted a shiny metallic-looking object in the martian soil. This week scientists have confirmed that it is plastic that has fallen off the 1-ton rover. However, the discovery of this trans-planetary littering has opened up another mystery for the science team. On October 12th the rover took a sample of soil from the ground, feeding it into its Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments for analysis, and a picture of the hole dug by the rover's claw revealed metallic particles in the dirt. The sample was subsequently dropped due to fears that particles from the rover had made it into the dirt. Further study now suggests that the metallic particles are actually native to Mars, as the photo reveals that they are embedded in the soil in clumps. In 2007 the older rover Spirit found evidence of silica for the first time, more testing will occur over the next few days to determine truly if this is again just Curiosity's littler, or something more profound."
Richard Dawkins is an author and an evolutionary biologist. For 13 years, he held the Simonyi Professorship at the University of Oxford. His 1976 book The Selfish Gene helped popularize the gene-centric view of evolution and coined the word "meme." Several other of his books, including Climbing Mount Improbable, River Out of Eden, and The Greatest Show on Earth have helped to explain aspects of evolution in a way non-scientists can more easily understand. Dawkins is a frequent opponent of creationism and intelligent design, and he generated widespread controversy and debate in 2006 with The God Delusion, a book that subjected common religious beliefs to unyielding scientific scrutiny. He wrote, "One of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding." Most recently, Dawkins wrote The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True, a graphic book that aims to introduce kids to science. He's also recently begun a video series titled "Sex, Death, and the Meaning of Life" about how our world would look without religion. Mr. Dawkins has graciously agreed to answer some questions for us. Post your suggestions in the comments below, but please limit yourself to one question per post. We'll post his responses sometime next week.
coondoggie writes "NASA today said it wants to gauge industry interest in the agency holding one of its patented Centennial Challenges to build the next cool unmanned aircraft. NASA said it is planning this Challenge in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force Research Lab, with NASA providing the prize purse of up to $1.5 million."
First time accepted submitter kandelar writes "PBS recently ran a story about how some scientists are using human hair to trace where a person has been. The combinations of different isotopes in water make for somewhat unique signatures from place to place. These isotopes get placed in growing hair strands which can then be traced back to identify where a person has been."
First time accepted submitter titan1070 writes "French scientist Dr. Spitzer and his colleagues have been working on a device that can sense faint traces of TNT and other explosives being smuggled into airports and other transportation methods. the hope for this device is that it will surpass the best bomb finder in the business, the sniffer dog. From the article: ' While researchers like Dr. Spitzer are making progress — and there are some vapor detectors on the market — when it comes to sensitivity and selectivity, dogs still reign supreme. “Dogs are awesome,” said Aimee Rose, a product sales director at the sensor manufacturer Flir Systems, which markets a line of explosives detectors called Fido. “They have by far the most developed ability to detect concealed threats,” she said. But dogs get distracted, cannot work around the clock and require expensive training and handling, Dr. Rose said, so there is a need for instruments.'"
derekmead writes "New evidence that the giant impact hypothesis is correct: A paper published today in Nature shares findings of a chemical analysis of Moon rocks that shows fractional differences between the makeup of the Earth and Moon that most likely were caused by the collision between Earth and a Mars-sized planet around 4.5 billion years ago. Although the two are quite similar, it's been previously shown that Moon rocks lack volatile elements, which suggests they may have evaporated during the incredibly intense heat and pressure created during an impact event. But if the hypothesis that light elements actually evaporated from Moon rocks during their formation is correct, you'd expect to find evidence of elements being layered by mass — heavier elements would condense first, and so on. That process is known as isotopic fractionation — a concept central to carbon dating — and the Washington University team's results suggest they found exactly that (abstract). They compared the blend of zinc isotopes in Moon rocks and Earth samples, and found that the Moon rocks held slightly higher proportions of heavier zinc isotopes. If the Moon was indeed once part of Earth — which has been shown by extensive modeling (PDF) — the difference in the balance of zinc profiles would most likely be explained by lighter zinc isotopes evaporating away following a collision."
Dupple sends this quote from MIT's Technology Review: "Computerized hospital equipment is increasingly vulnerable to malware infections, according to participants in a recent government panel. These infections can clog patient-monitoring equipment and other software systems, at times rendering the devices temporarily inoperable. While no injuries have been reported, the malware problem at hospitals is clearly rising nationwide, says Kevin Fu, a leading expert on medical-device security and a computer scientist at the University of Michigan and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who took part in the panel discussion. [He said], 'Conventional malware is rampant in hospitals because of medical devices using unpatched operating systems. There's little recourse for hospitals when a manufacturer refuses to allow OS updates or security patches.' ... Despite FDA guidance issued in 2009 to hospitals and manufacturers—encouraging them to work together and stressing that eliminating security risks does not always require regulatory review—many manufacturers interpret the fine print in other ways and don't offer updates, Fu says. And such reporting is not required unless a patient is harmed."
Hugh Pickens writes "The Christian Science Monitor reports that scientists are planning a new route for NASA's New Horizons space probe as it approaches a potentially perilous path toward Pluto through a possible set of rings that may create dangerous debris zones for the NASA spacecraft. New Horizons is currently about 1,000 days away and 730 million miles from closest approach to Pluto but given that New Horizons is currently zooming away from the sun at more than 33,500 mph, 'a collision with a single pebble, or even a millimeter-sized grain, could cripple or destroy New Horizons,' says project scientist Hal Weaver. 'We need to steer clear of any debris zones around Pluto.' Researchers are making plans to avoid these hazards if New Horizons needs to. 'We are now exploring nine other options, "bail-out trajectories,"' says principal investigator Alan Stern. New Horizon's current plan would take it about halfway between Pluto and the orbit of its largest moon, Charon. Four of the bail-out trajectories would still take the spacecraft between Pluto and Charon's orbit. The other alternatives would take New Horizons much further away from Pluto, past the orbits of its known moons. 'If you fly twice as far away, your camera does half as well; if it's 10 times as far, it does one-tenth as well,' says Stern. 'Still, half a loaf is better than no loaf. Sending New Horizons on a suicide mission does no one any good. We're very much of the mind to accomplish as much as we can, and not losing it all recklessly. Better to turn an A+ to an A- than get an F by overreaching.'"
Bismillah writes "Pacemakers seem to be hackable now too, if researcher Barnaby Jack is to be believed. And the consequences of that are deadly. Anonymous assassinations within 30 feet of the pacemaker seem to be possible. From the article: 'In a video demonstration, which Jack declined to release publicly because it may reveal the name of the manufacturer, he issued a series of 830 volt shocks to the pacemaker using a laptop. The pacemakers contained a "secret function" which could be used to activate all pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) in a 30 foot -plus vicinity. ... In reverse-engineering the terminals – which communicate with the pacemakers – he discovered no obfuscation efforts and even found usernames and passwords for what appeared to be the manufacturer’s development server. That data could be used to load rogue firmware which could spread between pacemakers with the "potential to commit mass murder."'"
The Bad Astronomer writes "Astronomers have announced that the nearest star system in the sky — Alpha Centauri — has an Earth-sized planet orbiting one of its stars. Alpha Cen is technically a three-star system: a binary composed of two stars very much like the Sun, orbited by a third, a red dwarf, much farther out. Using the Doppler technique (looking for very small changes in the velocities of the stars) astronomers detected a planet orbiting the smaller of the two stars in the binary, Alpha Centauri B. The planet has a mass only 1.13 times that of the Earth, making it one of the smallest yet detected.However, it orbits the star only 6 million kilometers out, so it's far too hot to be habitable. The signal from the planet is extremely weak but solidly detected (PDF), giving astronomers even greater hope of being able to find an Earth-like planet orbiting a star in its habitable zone."
Baldrson writes "The Guardian reports that a massive geoengineering project has been detected off the west coast of Canada that violates UN regulations. An Amerindian tribe in the Pacific NW that depends on salmon teamed with an entrepreneur and a group of scientists to have 100 tons of iron sulphate spread across a huge area of the ocean in order to spur plankton growth. 'Satellite images appear to confirm the claim ... that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometers. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed – a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilization that he hopes will net lucrative carbon credits.' The entrepreneur, Russ George, hopes to cash in on the carbon credits and the Amerindian tribe on an increased salmon harvest. The situation has sparked outcry from environmentalists and civil society groups. Oceanographer John Cullen said, 'It is difficult if not impossible to detect and describe important effects that we know might occur months or years later. Some possible effects, such as deep-water oxygen depletion and alteration of distant food webs, should rule out ocean manipulation. History is full of examples of ecological manipulations that backfired.'"