Sperm Stored In Space Produces Healthy Baby Mice On Earth ( 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Reproduction may be possible in space, Japanese researchers have said, after freeze-dried sperm stored on the International Space Station for nine months produced healthy offspring. The scientists said their findings could have significant ramifications for human settlements in space, which they consider "likely." The average daily radiation dose on the ISS is about 100 times stronger than that on Earth, posing a threat of serious reproductive problems for any space-dwelling organism. But mouse sperm stored on the ISS for 288 days from August 2013 to May 2014, then returned to Earth, fertilized in vitro and transferred into female mice, produced healthy offspring. The space-preserved samples showed evidence of slightly increased DNA damage compared with control samples preserved on Earth, but this was found to be largely repaired in embryos following fertilization. The birth rate and sex ratio of pups derived from the sperm stored in space was comparable to those of pups derived from the control samples. Subsequent whole genome analysis revealed only minor differences, and the pups developed into adults with normal fertility. The study was published in the proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

Remote Pacific Island Is the Most Plastic-Contaminated Spot Yet Surveyed ( 73

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Plastic is durable -- very, very durable -- which is why we like it. Since it started being mass-produced in the 1950s, annual production has increased 300-fold. Because plastic is so durable, when our kids grow up and we purge our toy chests, or even just when we finish a bottle of laundry detergent or shampoo, it doesn't actually go away. While we're recycling increasing amounts of plastic, a lot of it still ends up in the oceans. Floating garbage patches have brought some attention to the issue of our contamination of the seas. But it's not just the waters themselves that have ended up cluttered with plastic. A recent survey shows that a staggering amount of our stuff is coming ashore on the extremely remote Henderson Island. Henderson Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Pitcairn Group of Islands in the South Pacific, roughly half way between New Zealand and Peru. According to UNESCO, Henderson is one of the best examples we have of an elevated coral atoll ecosystem. It was colonized by Polynesians between the 12th and 15th centuries but has been uninhabited by humans since then. It is of interest to evolutionary biologists because it has 10 plant species and four bird species that are only found there. Despite its uninhabited status and its extremely remote location, a recent survey of beach plastic on Henderson Island revealed that the island has the highest density of debris reported anywhere in the world: an estimated minimum of 37.7 million items weighing 17.6 tons. This represents the total amount of plastic that is produced in the world every 1.98 seconds. Further reading: Here And Now
Data Storage

Microsoft Wants To Use DNA For Cloud Data Storage ( 36

Last July, researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington said that they had successfully encoded about 200 megabytes of data onto synthetic DNA molecules. The company is now planning to take the technology commercial. "Computer architects at Microsoft Research say the company has formalized a goal of having an operational storage system based on DNA working inside a data center toward the end of this decade," reports MIT Technology Review. "The aim is a 'proto-commercial system in three years storing some amount of data on DNA in one of our four centers for at least a boutique application,' says Doug Carmean, a partner architect at Microsoft Research." From the report: Internally, Microsoft harbors the even more ambitious goal of replacing tape drives, a common format used for archiving information. Major obstacles to a practical storage system remain. Converting digital bits into DNA code (made up of chains of nucleotides labeled A, G, C, and T) remains laborious and expensive because of the chemical process used to manufacture DNA strands. In its demonstration project, Microsoft used 13,448,372 unique pieces of DNA. Experts say buying that much material on the open market would cost $800,000. According to Microsoft, the cost of DNA storage needs to fall by a factor of 10,000 before it becomes widely adopted. While many experts say that's unlikely, Microsoft believes such advances could occur if the computer industry demands them.

Baking Soda Shortage Has Hospitals Frantic, Delaying Treatments and Surgeries ( 151

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Amid a national shortage of a critical medicine, US hospitals are hoarding vials, delaying surgeries, and turning away patients, The New York Times reports. The medicine in short supply: solutions of sodium bicarbonate -- aka, baking soda. The simple drug is used in all sorts of treatments, from chemotherapies to those for organ failure. It can help correct the pH of blood and ease the pain of stitches. It is used in open-heart surgery, can help reverse poisonings, and is kept on emergency crash carts. But, however basic and life-saving, the drug has been in short supply since around February. The country's two suppliers, Pfizer and Amphastar, ran low following an issue with one of Pfizer's suppliers -- the issue was undisclosed due to confidentiality agreements. Amphastar's supplies took a hit with a spike in demand from desperate Pfizer customers. Both companies told the NYT that they don't know when exactly supplies will be restored. They speculate that it will be no earlier than June or August. With the shortage of sodium bicarbonate, hospitals are postponing surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. A hospital in Mobile, Alabama, for example, postponed seven open-heart surgeries and sent one critically ill patient to another hospital due to the shortage.

'Science Must Clean Up Its Act' ( 514

Our science community still struggles with diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, including systemic bias, harassment, and discrimination among other things, writes Heather Metcalf, mathematician, computer scientist, social scientist, and also the director of research for the Association for Women in Science. From her piece, in which she has shared both personal anecdotes and general examples, for the Scientific American: [...] Take the recent March for Science. Nearly two weeks ago, scientists and science supporters gathered in Washington, D.C, and around the globe to stand up for "robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity" and put forth a vision of science that "serves the interests of all humans, not just those in power." However, in its attempts to remain apolitical and objective, the march focused primarily on funding and communication aspects of its mission while losing sight of the need for a science that addresses human freedom and prosperity for all, not just the privileged. [...] In the early days of its organizing, the march offered up a strong statement of solidarity acknowledging the complacency with which the scientific community as a whole has handled issues that primarily impact marginalized communities: "many issues about which scientists as a group have largely remained silent -- attacks on black and brown lives, oil pipelines through indigenous lands, sexual harassment and assault, ADA access in our communities, immigration policy, lack of clean water in several cities across the country, poverty wages, LGBTQIA rights, and mass shootings are scientific issues. Science has historically -- and generally continues to support discrimination. In order to move forward as a scientific community, we must address and actively work to unlearn our problematic past and present, to make science available to everyone." This messaging was removed and replaced after much pushback, largely from white men, about the need to remain apolitical and objective. These debates resulted in many women, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ scientists, and their allies feeling ostracized and even receiving disrespectful and hateful messages about their place in science generally and in M4S specifically. Rather than standing up for a science that is available to everyone, these conversations and the march itself merely served represent an exclusionary science by reinforcing longstanding, divisive norms within the scientific community, all in the name of objectivity..

New Battery Technology Draws Energy Directly From The Human Body ( 95

An anonymous reader quotes BleepingComputer: A team of eleven scientists from UCLA and the University of Connecticut has created a new energy-storing device that can draw electrical power from the human body. What researchers created is a biological supercapacitor, a protein-based battery-like device that extracts energy from the human body and then releases it inside an electrical circuit â" the implantable medical device. According to a research paper published earlier this month, the supercapacitor is made up by a device called a "harvester" that operates by using the body's heat and movements to extract electrical charges from ions found in human body fluids, such as blood, serum, or urine.

As electrodes, the harvester uses a carbon nanomaterial called graphene, layered with modified human proteins. The electrodes collect energy from the human body, relay it to the harvester, which then stores it for later use. Because graphene sheets can be drawn in sheets as thin as a few atoms, this allows for the creation of utra-thin supercapacitors that could be used as alternatives to classic batteries. For example, the bio-friendly supercapacitors researchers created are thinner than a human hair, and are also flexible, moving and twisting with the human body.


Arctic Stronghold of World's Seeds Flooded After Permafrost Melts ( 172

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world's most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity's food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel. The vault is on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen and contains almost a million packets of seeds, each a variety of an important food crop. When it was opened in 2008, the deep permafrost through which the vault was sunk was expected to provide "failsafe" protection against "the challenge of natural or man-made disasters". But soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world's hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. "It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that," said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault. "A lot of water went into the start of the tunnel and then it froze to ice, so it was like a glacier when you went in," she told the Guardian. Fortunately, the meltwater did not reach the vault itself, the ice has been hacked out, and the precious seeds remain safe for now at the required storage temperature of -18C. But the breach has questioned the ability of the vault to survive as a lifeline for humanity if catastrophe strikes.

Chemists May Be Zeroing In On Chemical Reactions That Sparked the First Life ( 113

sciencehabit quotes a report from Scientific Magazine: DNA is better known, but many researchers today believe that life on Earth got started with its cousin RNA, since that nucleic acid can act as both a repository of genetic information and a catalyst to speed up biochemical reactions. But those favoring this "RNA world" hypothesis have struggled for decades to explain how the molecule's four building blocks could have arisen from the simpler compounds present during our planet's early days. Now chemists have identified simple reactions that, using the raw materials on early Earth, can synthesize close cousins of all four building blocks. The resemblance isn't perfect, but it suggests scientists may be closing in on a plausible scenario for how life on Earth began. The study has been published in the journal Nature.

Scientists Claim 'Cold Spot' In Space Could Offer Evidence of a Parallel Universe ( 121

New submitter LCooke writes: A international research team led by the University of Durham thinks a mysterious cold spot in the universe could offer evidence of a parallel universe. The cold spot could have resulted after our universe collided with another. Physicist Tom Shanks said, [...] "the cold spot might be taken as the first evidence for the multiverse -- and billions of other universes may exist like our own." From the report via Inhabitat: "NASA first discovered the baffling cold spot in 2004. The cold spot is 1.8 billion light years across and, as you may have guessed, colder than what surrounds it in the universe. Scientists thought perhaps it was colder because it had 10,000 less galaxies than other regions of similar size. They even thought perhaps the cold spot was just a trick of the light. But now an international team of researchers think perhaps the cold spot could actually offer evidence for the concept of a multiverse. The Guardian explains an infinite number of universes make up a multiverse; each having its own reality different from ours. These scientists say they've ruled out the last-ditch optical illusion idea. Instead, they think our universe may have collided with another in what described as something like a car crash; the impact could have pushed energy away from an area of space to result in the cold spot." The study has been published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

'Without Action on Antibiotics, Medicine Will Return To the Dark Ages' ( 319

Four years ago professor Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer, gave the world a sombre warning of the growing threat posed by bacteria evolving resistance to life-saving antibiotics. If this were left unaddressed, she argued, it would lead to the erosion of modern medicine as we know it. Doctors and scientists had long warned of the problem, but few outside medicine were taking real heed. Consumption of antibiotics rose 36% between 2000 and 2010, writes Ed Whiting, director of policy and chief of staff at Wellcome, a biomedical research charity based in London. He notes that much of the progress in the field is yet to be made: We urgently need new antibiotics. No new classes of antibiotics have been approved since the early 1980s. Between 1940 and 1962 about 20 classes were produced, but industry backing has decreased significantly since that golden age. The pipeline of new treatments is all but dry, the void fast exploited by resistant bacteria. A concerning number are now resistant to drugs reserved as the last line of defence, and the most vulnerable are in greatest danger -- the young, old and critically ill. Blood infections caused by drug-resistant microbes kill more than 200,000 newborn babies each year. The reason for the lack of interest from the pharmaceutical industry is simple: the economics don't add up. Developing new antibiotics is scientifically challenging, time-consuming and costly. The medicines we so badly need cannot be allowed to be sold in volume; they must be conserved for real need, with fair access guaranteed. This limits their retail value. Many early-stage projects will fail, making them a risky bet. Even those that are successful will take at least a decade to produce medicines that are safe for human use.
Social Networks

Facebook and Twitter 'Harm Young People's Mental Health' ( 120

Instagram and Snapchat are really bad for young people's mental health, according to research by two health organisations. Virtually all major social media platforms have a negative impact on the well-being of 14-24-year-olds, the study adds. Instagram was the worst -- followed by Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. From a report on The Guardian: Instagram has the most negative impact on young people's mental wellbeing, a survey of almost 1,500 14- to 24-year-olds found, and the health groups accused it of deepening young people's feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. The survey, published on Friday, concluded that Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are also harmful. Among the five only YouTube was judged to have a positive impact. The four platforms have a negative effect because they can exacerbate children's and young people's body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness, the participants said.

Rising Seas Set To Double Coastal Flooding By 2050, Says Study ( 202

Coastal flooding is about to get dramatically more frequent around the world as sea levels rise from global warming, researchers said Thursday. Phys.Org reports, "A 10-to-20 centimeter (four-to-eight inch) jump in the global ocean watermark by 2050 -- a conservative forecast -- would double flood risk in high-latitude regions, they reports in the journal Scientific Reports." From the report: Major cities along the North American seaboard such as Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, along with the European Atlantic coast, would be highly exposed, they found. But it would only take half as big a jump in ocean levels to double the number of serious flooding incidents in the tropics, including along highly populated river deltas in Asia and Africa. Even at the low end of this sea rise spectrum, Mumbai, Kochi and Abidjan and many other cities would be significantly affected. To make up for the lack of observational data, Vitousek and his colleagues used computer modeling and a statistical method called extreme value theory. "We asked the question: with waves factored in, how much sea level rise will it take to double the frequency of flooding?" Sea levels are currently rising by three to four millimeters (0.10 to 0.15 inches) a year, but the pace has picked up by about 30 percent over the last decade. It could accelerate even more as continent-sized ice blocs near the poles continue to shed mass, especially in Antarctica, which Vitousek described as the sea level "wild card." If oceans go up 25 centimeters by mid-century, "flood levels that occur every 50 years in the tropics would be happening every year or more," he said.

Researchers Create a T-Shirt That Monitors the Wearer's Breathing Rate In Real Time ( 38

"Researchers at Universite Laval's Faculty of Science and Engineering and its Center for Optics, Photonics, and Lasers have created a smart T-shirt that monitors the wearer's respiratory rate in real time," reports Science Daily. The details have been published in the latest edition of Sensors. From the report: Unlike other methods of measuring respiratory rate, the smart T shirt works without any wires, electrodes, or sensors attached to the user's body, explains Younes Messaddeq, the professor who led the team that developed the technology. "The T shirt is really comfortable and doesn't inhibit the subject's natural movements. Our tests show that the data captured by the shirt is reliable, whether the user is lying down, sitting, standing, or moving around." The key to the smart T shirt is an antenna sewn in at chest level that's made of a hollow optical fiber coated with a thin layer of silver on its inner surface. The fiber's exterior surface is covered in a polymer that protects it against the environment. "The antenna does double duty, sensing and transmitting the signals created by respiratory movements," adds Professor Messaddeq, who also holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Photonic Innovations. "The data can be sent to the user's smartphone or a nearby computer." As the wearer breathes in, the smart fiber senses the increase in both thorax circumference and the volume of air in the lungs, explains Messaddeq. "These changes modify some of the resonant frequency of the antenna. That's why the T shirt doesn't need to be tight or in direct contact with the wearer's skin. The oscillations that occur with each breath are enough for the fiber to sense the user's respiratory rate."

Elsevier Wants $15 Million In 'Piracy' Damages From Sci-Hub and Libgen ( 158

lbalbalba writes: Elsevier, one of the largest academic publishers, is demanding $15 million in damages from Sci-Hub and LibGen, who make paywalled scientific research papers freely available to the public [without permission]. A good chunk of these papers are copyrighted, many by Elsevier. Elsevier has requested a default judgment of $15 million against the defendants for their "truly egregious conduct" and "staggering" infringement. Sci-Hub's efforts are backed by many prominent scholars, who argue that tax-funded research should be accessible to everyone. Others counter that the site doesn't necessarily help the "open access" movement move forward. Sci-Hub's founder Alexandra Elbakyan defends her position and believes that what she does is helping millions of less privileged researchers to do their work properly by providing free access to research results.

Climate Change is Turning Antarctica Green, Say Researchers ( 150

Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent's northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet. Amid the warming of the last 50 years, the scientists found two different species of mosses undergoing the equivalent of growth spurts, with mosses that once grew less than a millimeter per year now growing over 3 millimeters per year on average, (the link could be paywalled; alternative source below) the Washington Post reported on Thursday. From a report: "Antarctica is not going to become entirely green, but it will become more green than it currently is," said Matt Amesbury, co-author of the research from the University of Exeter. "This is linking into other processes that are happening on the Antarctic Peninsula at the moment, particularly things like glacier retreat which are freeing up new areas of ice-free land -- and the mosses particularly are very effective colonisers of those new areas," he added. In the second half of the 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula experienced rapid temperature increases, warming by about half a degree per decade. Plant life on Antarctica is scarce, existing on only 0.3% of the continent, but moss, well preserved in chilly sediments, offers scientists a way of exploring how plants have responded to such changes.

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