ananyo writes "Proteins are an enormous molecular achievement: chains of amino acids that fold spontaneously into a precise conformation, time after time, optimized by evolution for their particular function. Yet given the exponential number of contortions possible for any chain of amino acids, dictating a sequence that will fold into a predictable structure has been a daunting task. Now researchers report that they can do just that. By following a set of rules described in a paper published in Nature (abstract), a husband and wife team from David Baker's laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle has designed five proteins from scratch that fold reliably into predicted conformations. The work could eventually allow scientists to custom design proteins with specific functions."
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Freshly Exhumed writes "In a 7-to-0 decision, the Supreme Court Of Canada has ruled that Pfizer Canada Inc.'s patent on well-known erectile dysfunction remedy Viagra is now invalid due to insufficient information in Pfizer's patent application. The upshot is that competitors can now manufacture cheaper, generic versions of Viagra for sale in Canada."
coondoggie writes "NASA said today it had teamed with the European Space Agency to successfully test an experimental version of an 'interplanetary Internet' to control a robot on the ground in Germany from a laptop onboard the International Space Station."
kkleiner writes "For the last few months, the political pundit class has been at war with NYT/FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver. Joe Scarborough of MSNBC called him a "joke," while an op-ed in the LA Times accused him of running a "numbers racket." But last night, Silver triumphed: every one of his state-level presidential predictions proved true. "
jfruh writes "Among the winners of last night's election: marijuana users. Voters in both Washington and Colorado approved referenda that legalized marijuana for recreational use, though the drug remains illegal under federal law. There's been a long-standing debate among programmers as to whether recreational drugs, including pot and hallucinagens like LSD, can actually help programmers code. Don't forget, there was a substantial overlap between the wave of computer professionals who came of age in the '60s and that era's counterculture." (There's even a good book on that topic.)
SternisheFan writes in with a story about early humans passing down their tool making skills. "Sophisticated bladelets suggest that humans passed on their technological skill down the generations. A haul of stone blades from a cave in South Africa suggests that early humans were already masters of complex technology more than 70,000 years ago . The tiny blades — no more than about 3 centimeters long on average — were probably used as tips for throwable spears, or as spiky additions to club-like weapons, says Curtis Marean, an archaeologist at Arizona State University in Tempe who led the team that found the bladelets. Twenty-seven such blades, called microliths by archaeologists, were found in layers of sand and soil dating as far back as 71,000 years ago and representing a time-span of about 11,000 years, showing how long humans were manufacturing the blades. Clever crafters The find lends credence to the idea that early humans were capable of passing on their clever ideas to the next generation of artisans, creating complex technologies that endured over time. John Shea, a palaeoanthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, says that it also suggests that 'previous hypotheses that 'early' Homo sapiens differed from 'modern' ones in these respects are probably wrong'."
astroengine writes "The family of planets circling a relatively close dwarf star has grown to six, including a potential rocky world at least seven times more massive than Earth that is properly located for liquid water to exist on its surface, a condition believed to be necessary for life. Scientists added three new planets to three discovered in 2008 orbiting an orange star called HD 40307, which is roughly three-quarters as massive as the sun and located about 42 light-years away in the constellation Pictor. Of particular interest is the outermost planet, which is believed to fly around its parent star over 320 days, a distance that places it within HD 40307's so-called "habitable zone.""
pigrabbitbear writes "There's a reason why Elon Musk is being called the next Steve Jobs. Like Jobs, he's a visionary, a super successful serial entrepreneur, having made his initial fortune with a company he sold to Compaq before starting Paypal. Like Jobs, he saved his beloved baby Tesla Motors from the brink of oblivion. Like Jobs, [he has] a knack for paradigm-shifting industry disruption. Which means he's also demanding. 'Like Jobs, Elon does not tolerate C or D players,' SpaceX board member and early Tesla investor Steve Jurvetson told BusinessWeek. But while Jobs was slinging multi-colored music players and touchable smartphones, Musk is building rocket ships and electric-powered supercars. It's why his friends describe him as not just Steve Jobs but also John D. Rockefeller and Howard Hughes all wrapped in one. His friend Jon Favreau used Musk as the real-life inspiration for the big screen version of Tony Stark. Elon Musk is a badass."
SternisheFan sends this quote from Wired: "An international team of astronomers used three telescopes — the UK Infrared Telescope and the Subaru Telescope, both in Hawaii, and Chile's Very Large Telescope — to study trends in star formation, from the earliest days of the universe. Extrapolating their findings has revealed that half of all the stars that have ever existed were created between 9 and 11 billion years ago, with the other half created in the years since. That means the rate at which new stars are born has dropped off massively, to the extent that (if this trend continues) 95 percent of all the stars that this universe will ever see have already been born. Several studies have looked at specific time 'epochs', but the different methods used by each study has restricted the ability to compare their findings and discern a fuller model of how stars have evolved over the course of the entire universe's lifespan."
An anonymous reader writes "In Britain, where it is custom and practice to charge around £10 for a copy of your medical results, a patient has discovered that his copy will cost him £2,000 because the records are stored on an obsolete system that the current IT systems cannot access. Can this be good for patient care if no-one can access records dating back from a previous filing system? Perhaps we need to require all current systems to store data in a way that is vendor independent, and DRM-free, too?"
New submitter schirra writes "Researchers at MIT Game Lab have created a free video game that accurately simulates the effects of Einstein's relativity. 'A Slower Speed of Light' challenges players to collect objects strewn throughout a level to artificially lower the speed of light. As light speed slows to walking pace, it makes visible the unusual effects one encounters when traveling close to the speed of light, such as the Doppler effect, searchlight effect and Lorentz transformation. The effects are, in a word, trippy. The team plans to release an open-source Unity3D toolkit called OpenRelativity to allow others to include the same relativistic effects in other games." They also plan to release the source code sometime next year (despite reports that it is open source already).
Zothecula writes "Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a laser the size of a virus particle that can operate at room temperature. The 'nanolaser,' which uses gold nanoparticles instead of mirrors, is claimed to be the first demonstration to make use of a so-called bowtie arrangement of metal nanoparticles, though nano-scale lasers have been previously demonstrated." Original paper (paywalled, unfortunately).
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Western University in Canada: "The first human applied clinical study (SAV CT 01) using a genetically modified killed whole-virus vaccine (SAV001-H) to evaluate its safety and tolerability was initiated in March 2012. This study is a randomized, observer-blinded, placebo-controlled study of killed whole HIV-1 vaccine (SAV001-H) following intramuscular (IM) administration. Infected men and women, 18-50 years of age, have been enrolled in this study and randomized into two treatment groups to administer killed whole HIV-1 vaccine (SAV001-H) or placebo. Sumagen announced today the patient enrollment has progressed smoothly and there have been no adverse effects observed including local reactions, signs/symptoms and laboratory toxicities after SAV001-H injection in all enrolled patients to date. With these interim results, the SAV001-H has proven safety and tolerability in humans and given Sumagen confidence for the next clinical trials to prove its immunogenicity and efficacy evaluation."
kmoser writes "Everybody's favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, makes an appearance in upcoming Superman #14, in which Superman visits the Hayden Planetarium to view his original planet. Meanwhile, back in reality, DC Comics explains that NdGT has used his 'astronomical' powers to select the red dwarf LHS 2520 as the most likely real-life red star to fit with Superman's back story."
MrSeb writes "Engineers at the University of Michigan have created a pacemaker that is powered by the beating of your heart — no batteries required. The technology behind this new infinite-duration pacemaker is piezoelectricity. Piezoelectricity is is literally 'pressure electricity,' and it relates to certain materials that generate tiny amounts of electricity when deformed by an external force — which, in the case of the perpetual pacemaker, the vibrations in your chest as your heart pumps blood around your body. Piezoelectric devices generate very small amounts of power — on the order of tens of milliwatts — but it turns out that pacemakers require very little power. In testing, the researchers' energy harvester generated 10 times the required the power to keep a pacemaker firing. Currently, pacemakers are battery powered — and the battery generally need to be replaced every few years, which requires surgery. According M. Amin Karami, the lead researcher, 'Many of the patients are children who live with pacemakers for many years,' he said. 'You can imagine how many operations they are spared if this new technology is implemented.' This piezoelectric energy harvester is about half the size of a conventional battery, too, which is presumably a good thing."
kkleiner writes "Short on arable land? One solution would be to plan up. Singapore, a small country that imports most of its food, has now begun selling vegetables from its first vertical farm. And even while they're more expensive the vegetables are already selling faster than they can be grown. If the farms prove sustainable – both technologically and economically – they could provide a much desired supplement to Singapore's locally grown food and serve as a model for farming in other land-challenged areas."
Hugh Pickens writes "NASA reports that according to a study by Rebecca Martin and Mario Livio asteroid collisions may have provided a boost to the birth and evolution of complex life on earth delivering water and organic compounds to the early Earth and accelerating the rate of biological evolution with occasional impacts to disrupt a planet's environment to the point where species must try new adaptation strategies. 'Too many asteroids, and you've got an unrelenting cosmic shooting gallery, raining fiery death from above,' writes Fraser Cain. 'Too few asteroids, and complex life might not get the raw material it needs to get rolling. Life never gets that opportunity to really shake things up and evolve into more complex forms.' Martin and Livio suggest that the location of an asteroid belt relative to a Jupiter-like planet is not an accident. The asteroid belt in our solar system, located between Mars and Jupiter, is a region of millions of space rocks that sits near the 'snow line,' which marks the border of a cold region where volatile material such as water ice are far enough from the sun to remain intact. 'To have such ideal conditions you need a giant planet like Jupiter that is just outside the asteroid belt [and] that migrated a little bit, but not through the belt,' Livio explains. 'If a large planet like Jupiter migrates through the belt, it would scatter the material. If, on the other hand, a large planet did not migrate at all, that, too, is not good because the asteroid belt would be too massive. There would be so much bombardment from asteroids that life may never evolve.'"
An anonymous reader writes "4 years ago I read about experimental targeted muscle reinnervation (TMR) surgery on Slashdot. 3 years ago I crashed my motorcycle and had my leg amputated — at which time I had TMR done. Today I climbed 103 floors of the Willis Tower in Chicago with a experimental prosthetic using TMR. Thanks, Slashdot."
An anonymous reader writes with a link to this "time lapse video of students and postdocs at the University of Zurich constructing the zBox4 supercomputer. The machine has a theoretical compute capacity of ~1% of the human brain and will be used for simulating the formation of stars, planets and galaxies." That rack has "3,072 2.2GHz Intel Xeon cores and over 12TB of RAM." Also notable: for once, several of the YouTube comments are worth reading for more details on the construction and specs.
SternisheFan writes with an update to a story from earlier this year about a lawsuit in which David Coppedge alleged he was fired from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for his advocacy of Intelligent Design. Now, a judge has ruled that Coppedge was legitimately dismissed for performance reasons. From the article: "n 2009, he apparently got a bit aggressive about promoting these ideas at work, leading one employee to complain. The resulting investigation found that he had also aggressively promoted his opinion on California's gay marriage ban, and had attempted to get JPL's holiday party renamed to 'Christmas party.' ... Coppedge was warned about his behavior at work, but he felt it was an infringement of his religious freedom, so he sued. Shortly after, as part of a set of cutbacks on the Cassini staff, he was fired. In court, Coppedge and his lawyer portrayed him as being targeted for promoting an idea that is, to put it mildly, not popular with scientists. But JPL's legal team introduced evidence that his aggressive promotion of it at work was part of a pattern of bad interactions with his fellow employees that dated back at least five years earlier."