Government

Unmanned US Air Force Space Plane Lands After Secret, Two-Year Mission (reuters.com) 14

Irene Klotz, reporting for Reuters: The U.S. military's experimental X-37B space plane landed on Sunday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, completing a classified mission that lasted nearly two years, the Air Force said. The unmanned X-37B, which resembles a miniature space shuttle, touched down at 7:47 a.m. EDT (1147 GMT) on a runway formerly used for landings of the now-mothballed space shuttles, the Air Force said in an email. The Boeing-built space plane blasted off in May 2015 from nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas 5 rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The X-37B, one of two in the Air Force fleet, conducted unspecified experiments for more than 700 days while in orbit. It was the fourth and lengthiest mission so far for the secretive program, managed by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
Medicine

'Exercise-In-A-Pill' Boosts Athletic Endurance By 70 Percent, Study Finds (sciencedaily.com) 118

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science Daily: Salk Institute scientists, building on earlier work that identified a gene pathway triggered by running, have discovered how to fully activate that pathway in sedentary mice with a chemical compound, mimicking the beneficial effects of exercise, including increased fat burning and stamina. The study, which appears in Cell Metabolism on May 2, 2017, not only deepens our understanding of aerobic endurance, but also offers people with heart conditions, pulmonary disease, type 2 diabetes or other health limitations the hope of achieving those benefits pharmacologically. Previous work by the Evans lab into a gene called PPAR delta (PPARD) offered intriguing clues: mice genetically engineered to have permanently activated PPARD became long-distance runners who were resistant to weight gain and highly responsive to insulin -- all qualities associated with physical fitness. The team found that a chemical compound called GW1516 (GW) similarly activated PPARD, replicating the weight control and insulin responsiveness in normal mice that had been seen in the engineered ones. However, GW did not affect endurance (how long the mice could run) unless coupled with daily exercise, which defeated the purpose of using it to replace exercise. In the current study, the Salk team gave normal mice a higher dose of GW, for a longer period of time (8 weeks instead of 4). Both the mice that received the compound and mice that did not were typically sedentary, but all were subjected to treadmill tests to see how long they could run until exhausted. Mice in the control group could run about 160 minutes before exhaustion. Mice on the drug, however, could run about 270 minutes -- about 70 percent longer. For both groups, exhaustion set in when blood sugar (glucose) dropped to around 70 mg/dl, suggesting that low glucose levels (hypoglycemia) are responsible for fatigue.
Medicine

CRISPR Eliminates HIV In Live Animals (genengnews.com) 139

Researchers from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and the University of Pittsburgh show that HIV-1 infections can be eliminated from the genomes of living animals. Findings from the study have been published in the journal Molecular Therapy. Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News reports: This is the first study to demonstrate that HIV-1 replication can be completely shut down and the virus eliminated from infected cells in animals with a powerful gene-editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas9. The new work builds on a previous proof-of-concept study that the team published in 2016, in which they used transgenic rat and mouse models with HIV-1 DNA incorporated into the genome of every tissue of the animals' bodies. They demonstrated that their strategy could delete the targeted fragments of HIV-1 from the genome in most tissues in the experimental animals. In this new study, the LKSOM team genetically inactivated HIV-1 in transgenic mice, reducing the RNA expression of viral genes by roughly 60% to 95% -- confirming their earlier findings. They then tested their system in mice acutely infected with EcoHIV, the mouse equivalent of human HIV-1. In the third animal model, a latent HIV-1 infection was recapitulated in humanized mice engrafted with human immune cells, including T cells, followed by HIV-1 infection. "These animals carry latent HIV in the genomes of human T cells, where the virus can escape detection," Dr. Hu explained. Amazingly, after a single treatment with CRISPR/Cas9, viral fragments were successfully excised from latently infected human cells embedded in mouse tissues and organs.
Education

Trump Administration Rolls Back Obama-Era Nutrition Standards For School Lunches (arstechnica.com) 788

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Just a week into his position, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Monday a rollback of nutrition standards for school meals, previously championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama as part of a larger initiative to improve the health of America's children. Under Perdue's new rollback, schools across the country can now delay a requirement to reduce sodium levels, can serve kids fewer whole grains, and can provide one percent flavored milk in addition to flavored skim, unflavored skim, and unflavored one percent. In a news release that declared the move would "make school meals great again," Perdue said: "This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals. If kids aren't eating the food, and it's ending up in the trash, they aren't getting any nutrition -- thus undermining the intent of the program." Specifically, under Obama-era nutrition rules, schools were supposed to decrease sodium from meals in three phases. For instance, 2012 school lunches had average sodium levels between roughly 1,400mg to 1,600mg, with elementary school lunches on the lower end. Federal dietary guidelines, which schools must follow, recommend kids get 1,900mg to 2,300mg or less of sodium per day (depending on age). Currently, schools have dropped down to "Target 1," which is a range of about 1,200mg to 1,400mg or less. Schools were supposed to get that down to about 900mg to 1,000mg this year ("Target 2") and then to between 600mg and 700mg by 2022 ("Final Target"). The USDA will now waive the requirement to reach Target 2 until 2020. The USDA will also grant exemptions from the current requirement for schools to serve only whole-grain-rich foods.
Biotech

18-Year-Old Mexican Student Designs Bra That Can Detect Breast Cancer (independent.co.uk) 71

An 18-year-old student from Mexico has won the top prize at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) for his invention of a bra that can help in the early detection of breast cancer. "The bra, otherwise known as EVA, was developed with three friends through his company Higia Technologies, and was created primarily for women with genetic predisposition to cancer," reports The Independent. From the report: Equipped with around 200 biosensors, the bra maps the surface of the breast and is able to monitor changes in temperature, shape and weight. "Why a bra? Because it allows us to have the breasts in the same position and it doesn't have to be worn more than one hour a week," he said in an interview with El Universal. Rios Cantu says that the biosensors are able to determine thermal conductivity by specific zones. In some instances, heat can indicate more blood flow, which therefore indicates that those blood vessels are "feeding" on something -- typically some type of cancer. After beating 13 other student entrepreneurs from around the globe, Rios Cantu took home an impressive $20,000.
Biotech

Supercomputers Assist In Search For New, Better Cancer Drugs (utexas.edu) 22

aarondubrow writes: Finding new drugs that can more effectively kill cancer cells or disrupt the growth of tumors is one way to improve survival rates for ailing patients. Researchers are using supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to find new chemotherapy drugs and to test known compounds to determine if they can fight different types of cancer. Recent efforts have yielded promising drug candidates, potential plant-derived compounds and new target sites that can lead to more effective drugs. From the Texas Advanced Computing Center: "Identifying a new drug by intuition or trial and error is expensive and time consuming. Virtual screening, on the other hand, uses computer simulations to explore how a large number of small molecule compounds 'dock,' or bind, to a target to determine if they may be candidates for future drugs. [...] In September 2016, writing in the journal Oncogene, Rommie Amaro, professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, reported results from the largest atomic-level simulation of the tumor suppression protein [p53] to date -- comprising more than 1.5 million atoms. The simulations helped to identify new 'pockets' -- binding sites on the surface of the protein -- where it may be possible to insert a small molecule that could reactivate p53. They revealed a level of complexity that is very difficult, if not impossible, to experimentally test. According to Amaro, computing provides a better understanding of cancer mechanisms and ways to develop possible novel therapeutic avenues."
United States

Carbon Intensity is Falling in Industrial, Electric Power Sectors (arstechnica.com) 114

Over the last seven years, the electrical power sector has gone from being one of the most carbon-emitting sectors of the American economy per unit of fuel consumed to one of the least carbon-emitting sectors. From a report on ArsTechnica: That's according to new data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Despite the good news, the EIA's numbers show that, since 1975, the carbon emissions of the US transportation sector per unit of fuel used has hardly changed at all. The EIA measured relative emissions across the US economy as "carbon intensity -- an average of the amount of carbon any sector gives off as it consumes different kinds of fuel. The measurements were applied to five sectors of the US economy: transportation, commercial, residential, electric, and industrial.
Power

UK's Newest Tokamak Fusion Reactor Has Created Its First Plasma (futurism.com) 308

After being switched on for the first time last Friday, the UK's newest fusion reactor has successfully generated a molten mass of electrically-charged gas, or plasma, inside its core. Futurism reports: Called the ST40, the reactor was constructed by Tokamak Energy, one of the leading private fusion energy companies in the world. The company was founded in 2009 with the express purpose of designing and developing small fusion reactors to introduce fusion power into the grid by 2030. Now that the ST40 is running, the company will commission and install the complete set of magnetic coils needed to reach fusion temperatures. The ST40 should be creating a plasma temperature as hot as the center of the Sun -- 15 million degrees Celsius (27 million degrees Fahrenheit) -- by Autumn 2017. By 2018, the ST40 will produce plasma temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit), another record-breaker for a privately owned and funded fusion reactor. That temperature threshold is important, as it is the minimum temperature for inducing the controlled fusion reaction. Assuming the ST40 succeeds, it will prove that its novel design can produce commercially viable fusion power.
Software

Computer Scientists Have Created the Most Accurate Digital Model of a Human Face (sciencemag.org) 28

sciencehabit quotes a report from Science Magazine: If you've used the smartphone application Snapchat, you may have turned a photo of yourself into a disco bear or melded your face with someone else's. Now, a group of researchers has created the most advanced technique yet for building 3D facial models on the computer. The system could improve personalized avatars in video games, facial recognition for security, and -- of course -- Snapchat filters. The team also trained its program to turn casual 2D snapshots into accurate 3D models. The method could be used to view what a criminal suspect caught on camera would look like from a different angle, or 20 years older. One could also flesh out and animate historical figures from portraits. The "large scale facial model," or LSFM, may soon have medical applications, too. If someone has lost a nose, the technology could help plastic surgeons determine how a new one should look, given the rest of the face.
NASA

Trump Has Grand Plan For Mission To Mars But Nasa Advises: Cool Your Jets (theguardian.com) 444

Donald Trump would like to see Americans walk on Mars during his presidency. Nasa would love to get there that quickly, too. The reality of space travel is slightly more complicated, however. From a report: On Monday, during a call with astronaut Peggy Whitson, who was aboard the International Space Station, Trump pressed her for a timeline on a crewed mission to Mars, one of Nasa's longest standing and most daunting goals. "Tell me, Mars," he asked her from the Oval Office, "what do you see a timing for actually sending humans to Mars? Is there a schedule and when would you see that happening?" Whitson answered by pointing out that Trump, by signing a Nasa funding bill last month, had already approved a timeline for a mission in the 2030s. She added that Nasa was building a new heavy-launch rocket, which would need testing. "Unfortunately space flight takes a lot of time and money," she said. "But it is so worthwhile doing." Trump replied: "Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term, so we'll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?" It was not clear whether the president meant the remark as a quip or something more serious.
NASA

SpaceX Successfully Launches Its First Spy Satellite (arstechnica.com) 65

SpaceX successfully launched NROL-76, a classified U.S. intelligence mission, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center Monday. Sunday's launch attempt was scrubbed due to a sensor issue. From a report: Not much is known about the National Reconnaissance Office's NROL-76 satellite, a classified payload, which will liftoff into low Earth orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Space

NASA Launches Super Balloon To Detect Cosmic Particles From Near Space (nzherald.co.nz) 11

"After seven unsuccessful attempts NASA has launched a stadium-sized balloon in Wanaka," reports the New Zealand Herald, adding that the super-pressure balloon will collect data from "near space" over the next 100 days. Reuters reports: The balloon, designed by NASA to detect ultra-high energy cosmic particles from beyond the galaxy as they penetrate the earth's atmosphere, is expected to circle the planet two or three times. "The origin of these particles is a great mystery that we'd like to solve. Do they come from massive black holes at the centre of galaxies? Tiny, fast-spinning stars? Or somewhere else?" Angela Olinto, a University of Chicago professor and lead investigator on the project, said in a statement.
Government

EPA Website Removes Climate Science Site From Public View After Two Decades (washingtonpost.com) 167

Last week there were reports that the EPA climate change website was set to be taken down, though later the EPA denied that. On Friday evening, however, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its website would be "undergoing changes" to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information (paywalled; alternative source). From a report on The Washington Post: One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA's new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration's Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions. The changes came less than 24 hours before thousands of protesters were set to march in Washington and around the country in support of political action to push back against the Trump administration's rollbacks of former president Barack Obama's climate policies.
Medicine

Surgeon Plans To 'Reawaken' Cryogenically Frozen Brains, Transplant Them Into Someone Else's Skull (nationalpost.com) 125

Sergio Canavero, the Italian surgeon who plans to perform the world's first human head transplant within the next year, says he is preparing to reawaken cryogenically frozen brains and transplant them into someone else's skull. "In an interview with a German-language magazine, Canavero says he will attempt to bring the first brains frozen in liquid nitrogen at an Arizona-based cryogenics bank back to life 'not in 100 years,' but three years at the latest," reports National Post. From the report: Transplanting a brain only -- and not an entire head -- gets around formidable rejection issues, Canavero said, since there will be no need to reconnect and stitch up severed vessels, nerves, tendons and muscles as there is when a new head is fused onto a brain-dead donor body. Canavero allows that one "problematic" issue with brain transplants, however, would be that "no aspect of your original external body remains the same." "Your head is no longer there, your brain is transplanted into an entirely different skull," he told OOOM magazine, published by the same company that handles the Italian brain surgeon's public relations. The flamboyant neuroscientist who some ethicists have decried as "nuts" rattled the transplant world when he first outlined his plans for a human head transplant two years ago in the journal, Surgical Neurology International. Bioethicist Arthur Caplan called Canavero's latest proposal to merge head transplants with "resurrecting" the frozen dead beyond ridiculous. "People have their own doubts about whether anything can be salvaged from these frozen heads or bodies because of the damage freezing does," said Caplan, head of ethics at NYU Langone Medical Centre in New York City. "Then saying that he has some technique for making this happen, that has never been demonstrated in frozen animals, is absurd."
Earth

Trump Order Helps Offshore Drilling, Stops Marine Sanctuary Expansion (arstechnica.com) 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In an executive order signed on Friday, President Trump directed his secretary of the interior to review current rules on offshore drilling and exploration. This review is likely to result in a relaxation of the strict protections the previous administration put on offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic and in the Arctic. According to the Washington Post, a review of the rules is likely to "make millions of acres of federal waters eligible for oil and gas leasing." At the same time, Trump's executive order directed the secretary of commerce to cease designating new marine sanctuaries or expanding any that already exist. According to USA Today, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is also "directed to review all designations and expansions of marine monuments or sanctuaries designated under the Antiquities Act within the last 10 years." The Post says this "includes Hawaii's Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which Obama quadrupled in size last year, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off Massachusetts." Although these reviews could take some time to complete, they put in motion a bid to favor extraction industries like oil and gas mining. "Today, we're unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying energy jobs," Trump reportedly told the Associated Press.
Robotics

MIT Creates 3D-Printing Robot That Can Construct a Home Off-Grid In 14 Hours (mit.edu) 62

Kristine Lofgren writes: Home building hasn't changed much over the years, but leave it to MIT to take things to the next level. A new technology built at MIT can construct a simple dome structure in 14 hours and it's powered by solar panels, so you can take it to remote areas. MIT's 3D-printing robot can construct the entire basic structure of a building and can be customized to fit the local terrain in ways that traditional methods can't do. It even has a built-in scoop so it can prepare the building site and gather its own construction materials. You can watch a video of the 3D-printing robot in action here.
Medicine

We're Getting Closer To Mass Production of Bones, Organs, and Implants (bloomberg.com) 54

Medical researchers have been able to create certain kinds of living cells with 3D printers for more than a decade. Now a few companies are getting closer to mass production of higher-order tissues (bone, cartilage, organs) and other individually tailored items, including implants. From an article: Organovo has successfully transplanted human liver tissue into mice to cure chronic liver failure. Pending the success of human trials, possible applications include the $3 billion market for inherited conditions such as hemophilia. [...] Aspect prints tissue cells to create structures that resemble parts of the human body, such as an airway or meniscus, to spur easier research on treatments for, say, asthma or muscle tears. By taking muscle cells from a lung, for example, the company built respiratory tissue that responded to common asthma inhalers as a person's body should. [...] Materialise designs custom 3D-printable implants, surgical guides, and other medical devices. It's waiting on approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for implants designed to fuse bones.
NASA

NASA Delays First Flight of New SLS Rocket Until 2019 (arstechnica.com) 115

schwit1 writes: Despite spending almost $19 billion and more than thirteen years of development, NASA today admitted that it will have to delay the first test flight of the SLS rocket from late 2018 to sometime in 2019. "We agree with the GAO that maintaining a November 2018 launch readiness date is not in the best interest of the program, and we are in the process of establishing a new target in 2019," wrote William Gerstenmaier, chief of NASA's human spaceflight program. "Caution should be used in referencing the report on the specific technical issues, but the overall conclusions are valid." The competition between the big government SLS/Orion program and private commercial space is downright embarrassing to the government. While SLS continues to be delayed, even after more than a decade of work and billions of wasted dollars, SpaceX is gearing up for the first flight of Falcon Heavy this year. And they will be doing it despite the fact that Congress took money from the commercial private space effort, delaying its progress, in order to throw more money at SLS/Orion.
Medicine

DNA-Based Test Can Spot Cancer Recurrence a Year Before Conventional Scans (theguardian.com) 27

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: A revolutionary blood test has been shown to diagnose the recurrence of cancer up to a year in advance of conventional scans in a major lung cancer trial. The test, known as a liquid biopsy, could buy crucial time for doctors by indicating that cancer is growing in the body when tumors are not yet detectable on CT scans and long before the patient becomes aware of physical symptoms. It works by detecting free-floating mutated DNA, released into the bloodstream by dying cancer cells. In the trial of 100 lung cancer patients, scientists saw precipitous rises in tumor DNA in the blood of patients who would go on to relapse months, or even a year, later. In the latest trial, reported in the journal Nature, 100 patients with non-small cell lung cancer were followed from diagnosis through surgery and chemotherapy, having blood tests every six to eight weeks. By analyzing the patchwork of genetic faults in cells across each tumor, scientists created personalized genomic templates for each patient. This was then compared to the DNA floating in their blood, to assess whether a fraction of it matched that seen in their tumor.
China

US Space Firms Tell Washington: China Will Take Over the Moon if You're Not Careful (yahoo.com) 165

The US space industry is prodding the US government into refreshing its outdated laws on commercial activity beyond earth: scare it with talk of Chinese galactic domination. A report adds: At a Senate hearing on the space industry this week, companies that build rockets and space habitats and manufacture electronic goods in space spoke about a standard laundry list of complaints, from regulatory burdens to fears of subsidized competitors. But their message was wrapped in patriotic concerns about China's growing capacity for space action. These companies are eager for the US government to allow and invest in commercial activities in orbit and around the moon. Many think the laws governing action in space, and particularly the UN Space Treaty, need refreshing for an age when private companies are close to matching the space capacity of sovereign nations. The last major change was a law on asteroid mining passed in 2015.

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