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Machine Learning Reveals Genetic Controls

Soulskill posted 2 hours ago | from the finally-explains-why-your-ears-stick-out-so-far dept.

Biotech 3

An anonymous reader writes with this quote from Quanta Magazine: Most genetic research to date has focused on just 1 percent of the genome — the areas that code for proteins. But new research, published today in Science, provides an initial map for the sections of the genome that orchestrate this protein-building process. "It's one thing to have the book — the big question is how you read the book," said Brendan Frey, a computational biologist at the University of Toronto who led the new research (abstract).

For example, researchers can use the model to predict what will happen to a protein when there’s a mistake in part of the regulatory code. Mutations in splicing instructions have already been linked to diseases such as spinal muscular atrophy, a leading cause of infant death, and some forms of colorectal cancer. In the new study, researchers used the trained model to analyze genetic data from people afflicted with some of those diseases. The scientists identified some known mutations linked to these maladies, verifying that the model works. They picked out some new candidate mutations as well, most notably for autism.

One of the benefits of the model, Frey said, is that it wasn’t trained using disease data, so it should work on any disease or trait of interest. The researchers plan to make the system publicly available, which means that scientists will be able to apply it to many more diseases.

The Dominant Life Form In the Cosmos Is Probably Superintelligent Robots

Soulskill posted 2 hours ago | from the quick-destroy-all-the-remaining-copies-of-Battlebots dept.

Robotics 233

Jason Koebler writes: If and when we finally encounter aliens, they probably won't look like little green men, or spiny insectoids. It's likely they won't be biological creatures at all, but rather, advanced robots that outstrip our intelligence in every conceivable way. Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, joins a handful of astronomers, including Seth Shostak, director of NASA's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, NASA Astrobiologist Paul Davies, and Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology Stephen Dick in espousing the view that the dominant intelligence in the cosmos is probably artificial. In her paper "Alien Minds," written for a forthcoming NASA publication, Schneider describes why alien life forms are likely to be synthetic, and how such creatures might think.

Quantum Physics Just Got Less Complicated

Soulskill posted 5 hours ago | from the but-is-still-pretty-complicated dept.

Science 138

wabrandsma sends this news from Phys.org: Here's a nice surprise: quantum physics is less complicated than we thought. An international team of researchers has proved that two peculiar features of the quantum world previously considered distinct are different manifestations of the same thing. The result is published 19 December in Nature Communications. Patrick Coles, Jedrzej Kaniewski, and Stephanie Wehner made the breakthrough while at the Center for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore. They found that wave-particle duality is simply the quantum uncertainty principle in disguise, reducing two mysteries to one.

Skeptics Would Like Media To Stop Calling Science Deniers 'Skeptics'

Soulskill posted 7 hours ago | from the intellectual-brand-recognition dept.

The Media 456

Layzej writes: Prominent scientists, science communicators, and skeptic activists, are calling on the news media to stop using the word "skeptic" when referring to those who refuse to accept the reality of climate change, and instead refer to them by what they really are: science deniers. "Not all individuals who call themselves climate change skeptics are deniers. But virtually all deniers have falsely branded themselves as skeptics. By perpetrating this misnomer, journalists have granted undeserved credibility to those who reject science and scientific inquiry."

Scientists Discover That Exercise Changes Your DNA

samzenpus posted 7 hours ago | from the a-whole-new-you dept.

Science 44

HughPickens.com writes The human genome is astonishingly complex and dynamic, with genes constantly turning on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. Scientists have known that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise but they hadn't understood how those genes knew how to respond to exercise. Now the NYT reports that scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have completed a study where they recruited 23 young and healthy men and women, brought them to the lab for a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy, and then asked them to exercise half of their lower bodies for three months. The volunteers pedaled one-legged at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week for three months. Then the scientists repeated the muscle biopsies and other tests with each volunteer. Not surprisingly, the volunteers' exercised leg was more powerful now than the other, showing that the exercise had resulted in physical improvements. But there were also changes within the exercised muscle cells' DNA. Using technology that analyses 480,000 positions throughout the genome, they could see that new methylation patterns had taken place in 7,000 genes (an individual has 20–25,000 genes).

In a process known as DNA methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and make the gene more or less able to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body. In the exercised portions of the bodies, many of the methylation changes were on portions of the genome known as enhancers that can amplify the expression of proteins by genes. And gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied. Most of the genes in question are known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and bodies — become. Many mysteries still remain but the message of the study is unambiguous. "Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn't cost much money," says Sara Lindholm, "we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life."

Kepler Makes First Exoplanet Discovery After Mission Reboot

samzenpus posted 10 hours ago | from the look-what-we-found dept.

NASA 23

astroengine writes NASA's Kepler space telescope has detected its first new extrasolar planet after mission engineers were able to save the mission from a premature death after two of the exoplanet hunter's four stabilizing reaction wheels failed last year. Called "K2," the extended mission arose from an "innovative idea" that appears to have given the prolific telescope a new lease on life. "Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission was not part of the conversation," said Paul Hertz, NASA's astrophysics division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington D.C. "Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distant worlds and search for signatures of life."

Satellite Captures Glowing Plants From Space

samzenpus posted yesterday | from the getting-that-glow dept.

Earth 36

sciencehabit writes About 1% of the light that strikes plants is re-emitted as a faint, fluorescent glow—a measure of photosynthetic activity. Today, scientists released a map of this glow as measured by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, a NASA satellite launched in July with the goal of mapping the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The map reveals that tropical rainforests near the equator are actively sucking up carbon, while the Corn Belt in the eastern United States, near the end of its growing season, is also a sink. Higher resolution fluorescence mapping could one day be used to help assess crop yields and how they respond to drought and heat in a changing climate.

India Successfully Test Fires Its Heaviest Rocket

timothy posted yesterday | from the might-roar dept.

Space 55

vasanth (908280) writes India on Thursday moved forward in rocket technology with the successful flight testing of its heaviest next generation rocket and the crew module . The 630-tonne three-stage rocket, Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III, carried active solid boosters, liquid core stage and a passive cryo stage and a crew module to test its re-entry characteristics. This rocket is capable of doubling the capacity of payloads India can carry into space and it can deposit up to four tonne class of communication satellites into space. India also plans to use this rocket for ferrying Indian astronauts into space. For India, ISRO (the Indian space agency) perfecting the cryogenic engine technology is crucial as India can save precious foreign exchange by launching heavy duty communication satellites by itself.

Cause and Effect: How a Revolutionary New Statistical Test Can Tease Them Apart

timothy posted yesterday | from the submission-caused-post dept.

Math 125

KentuckyFC writes Statisticians have long thought it impossible to tell cause and effect apart using observational data. The problem is to take two sets of measurements that are correlated, say X and Y, and to find out if X caused Y or Y caused X. That's straightforward with a controlled experiment in which one variable can be held constant to see how this influences the other. Take for example, a correlation between wind speed and the rotation speed of a wind turbine. Observational data gives no clue about cause and effect but an experiment that holds the wind speed constant while measuring the speed of the turbine, and vice versa, would soon give an answer. But in the last couple of years, statisticians have developed a technique that can tease apart cause and effect from the observational data alone. It is based on the idea that any set of measurements always contain noise. However, the noise in the cause variable can influence the effect but not the other way round. So the noise in the effect dataset is always more complex than the noise in the cause dataset. The new statistical test, known as the additive noise model, is designed to find this asymmetry. Now statisticians have tested the model on 88 sets of cause-and-effect data, ranging from altitude and temperature measurements at German weather stations to the correlation between rent and apartment size in student accommodation.The results suggest that the additive noise model can tease apart cause and effect correctly in up to 80 per cent of the cases (provided there are no confounding factors or selection effects). That's a useful new trick in a statistician's armoury, particularly in areas of science where controlled experiments are expensive, unethical or practically impossible.

After 40 Years As a Double Amputee, Man Gains Two Bionic Arms

timothy posted yesterday | from the about-time-really dept.

Medicine 65

MojoKid writes Les Baugh, a Colorado man who lost both arms in an electrical accident 40 years ago, is looking forward to being able to insert change into a soda machine and retrieving the beverage himself. But thanks to the wonders of science and technology — and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) — he'll regain some of those functions while making history as the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to wear and simultaneously control two Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPLs). "It's a relatively new surgical procedure that reassigns nerves that once controlled the arm and the hand," explained Johns Hopkins Trauma Surgeon Albert Chi, M.D. "By reassigning existing nerves, we can make it possible for people who have had upper-arm amputations to control their prosthetic devices by merely thinking about the action they want to perform."

Did Alcatraz Escapees Survive? Computer Program Says They Might Have

timothy posted yesterday | from the like-to-think-so dept.

Crime 87

In June of 1962, three prisoners escaped the penitentary on Alcatraz, in an elaborate plot that was dramatized in a Clint Eastwood movie. A question that has long puzzled the public is whether these men ever made it to shore; the many factors that made Alcatraz a secure prison include sharks, cold water, and contrary currents. Still, some artifacts from the attempt, and perhaps the appeal of stories about survival against high odds, have led many people to believe that the men actually landed safely and faded into society. coondoggie writes This week Dutch scientists from Delft University of Technology presented findings from a computer modeling program they were working on, unrelated to the mystery, that demonstrated the escapees could have survived the journey. "In hindsight, the best time to launch a boat from Alcatraz was [11:30 am], one and a half hours later than has generally been assumed. A rubber boat leaving Alcatraz at [11:30 am] would most likely have landed just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The model also shows that debris in that scenario would be likely to wash up at Angel Island, exactly where one of the paddles and some personal belongings were found.

Startup Helps You Build Your Very Own Picosatellite On a Budget

samzenpus posted yesterday | from the to-infinty-and-beyond dept.

Education 21

Zothecula writes A Glasgow-based startup is reducing the cost of access to space by offering "satellite kits" that make it easier for space enthusiasts, high schools and universities alike to build a small but functional satellite for as little as US$6,000 and then, thanks to its very small size, to launch for significantly less than the popular CubeSats.

Terrestrial Gamma Ray Bursts Very Common

samzenpus posted 2 days ago | from the planet-hulk dept.

Space 69

Rambo Tribble writes It was long thought that gamma ray bursts were the exclusive province of deep space sources. More recently it was found that storms could produce such emissions, but such occurrences were thought rare. Now, data from NASA's Fermi satellite suggest such events happen over a thousand times a day. Per Prof. Joseph Dwyer, from the University of New Hampshire, "These are big, monster bursts of gamma rays, and one would think these must be monster storms producing them. But that's not the case. Even boring-looking, garden-variety, little storms can produce these."

NASA Tests Feasibility of 3D Printing on the Moon and Other Planets

samzenpus posted 2 days ago | from the in-space-nobody-can-hear-you-print dept.

Moon 58

ErnieKey writes A major application of 3d printing that could revolutionize space travel would be using 3d printers to create structures on non-terrestrial bodies like the moon, other planets, and even asteroids. Researchers from NASA's Kennedy Space Center have been working to develop solutions to materials issues, and recently presented initial findings on the potential for using in-situ materials like basalt for 3D printing. Their innovative method is based on only using in-situ supplies, and not materials that need to be brought into space.

NASA Study Proposes Airships, Cloud Cities For Venus Exploration

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the billy-dee-williams-volunteers-to-lead dept.

Space 197

An anonymous reader writes: IEEE Spectrum reports on a study out of NASA exploring the idea that manned missions to Venus are possible if astronauts deploy and live in airships once they arrive. Since the atmospheric pressure at the surface is 92 times that of Earth, and the surface temperate is over 450 degrees C, the probes we've sent to Venus haven't lasted long. The Venera 8 probe sent back data for only 50 minutes after landing. Soviet missions in 1985 were able to get much more data — 46 hours worth — by suspending their probes from balloons. The new study refines that concept: "At 50 kilometers above its surface, Venus offers one atmosphere of pressure and only slightly lower gravity than Earth. Mars, in comparison, has a "sea level" atmospheric pressure of less than a hundredth of Earth's, and gravity just over a third Earth normal. The temperature at 50 km on Venus is around 75 C, which is a mere 17 degrees hotter than the highest temperature recorded on Earth.

The defining feature of these missions is the vehicle that will be doing the atmospheric exploring: a helium-filled, solar-powered airship. The robotic version would be 31 meters long (about half the size of the Goodyear blimp), while the crewed version would be nearly 130 meters long, or twice the size of a Boeing 747. The top of the airship would be covered with more than 1,000 square meters of solar panels, with a gondola slung underneath for instruments and, in the crewed version, a small habitat and the ascent vehicle that the astronauts would use to return to Venus's orbit, and home."

A New Law For Superconductors

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the radar-enforced dept.

Science 53

TaleSlinger sends word of a newly-discovered "mathematical relationship — between material thickness, temperature, and electrical resistance — that appears to hold in all superconductors." The work (abstract), led by Yachin Irvy, comes out of MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics. Researchers found that a particular superconductor (niobium nitride) didn't fit earlier models estimating the temperature at which it changes from normal conductivity to superconductivity. So the researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they held constant either thickness or “sheet resistance,” the material’s resistance per unit area, while varying the other parameter; they then measured the ensuing changes in critical temperature. A clear pattern emerged: Thickness times critical temperature equaled a constant — call it A — divided by sheet resistance raised to a particular power — call it B. ... The other niobium nitride papers Ivry consulted bore out his predictions, so he began to expand to other superconductors. Each new material he investigated required him to adjust the formula’s constants — A and B. But the general form of the equation held across results reported for roughly three dozen different superconductors.

SpaceX To Attempt Falcon 9 Landing On Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the good-luck dept.

Space 81

An anonymous reader writes: SpaceX has announced that at the conclusion of its next rocket flight, it will attempt a precision landing of its Falcon 9 first stage onto an autonomous ocean platform. They say the odds of success aren't great, but it's the beginning of their work to make this a reality. Quoting: "At 14 stories tall and traveling upwards of 1300 m/s (nearly 1 mi/s), stabilizing the Falcon 9 first stage for reentry is like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm. To help stabilize the stage and to reduce its speed, SpaceX relights the engines for a series of three burns.

The first burn—the boostback burn—adjusts the impact point of the vehicle and is followed by the supersonic retro propulsion burn that, along with the drag of the atmosphere, slows the vehicle's speed from 1300 m/s to about 250 m/s. The final burn is the landing burn, during which the legs deploy and the vehicle's speed is further reduced to around 2 m/s. ... To complicate matters further, the landing site is limited in size and not entirely stationary. The autonomous spaceport drone ship is 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet. While that may sound huge at first, to a Falcon 9 first stage coming from space, it seems very small. The legspan of the Falcon 9 first stage is about 70 feet and while the ship is equipped with powerful thrusters to help it stay in place, it is not actually anchored, so finding the bullseye becomes particularly tricky."

Spacecraft Spots Probable Waves On Titan's Seas

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the surf's-up dept.

Space 82

sciencehabit writes: It's springtime on Titan, Saturn's giant and frigid moon, and the action on its hydrocarbon seas seems to be heating up. Near the moon's north pole, there is growing evidence for waves on three different seas, scientists reported at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Researchers are also coming up with the first estimates for the volume and composition of the seas. The bodies of water appear to be made mostly of methane, and not mostly ethane as previously thought. And they are deep: Ligeia Mare, the second biggest sea with an area larger than Lake Superior, could contain 55 times Earth's oil reserves.

Researchers Accidentally Discover How To Turn Off Skin Aging Gene

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the vain-mice-everywhere-rejoice dept.

Medicine 170

BarbaraHudson sends this excerpt from The Province: While exploring the effects of the protein-degrading enzyme Granzyme B on blood vessels during heart attacks, professor David Granville and other researchers at the University of British Columbia couldn't help noticing that mice engineered to lack the enzyme had beautiful skin at the end of the experiment, while normal mice showed signs of age. The discovery pushed Granville's research in an unexpected new direction.

The researchers built a mechanized rodent tanning salon and exposed mice engineered to lack the enzyme and normal mice to UV light three times a week for 20 weeks, enough to cause redness, but not to burn. At the end of the experiment, the engineered mice still had smooth, unblemished skin, while the normal mice were deeply wrinkled.

Granzyme B breaks down proteins and interferes with the organization and the integrity of collagen, dismantling the scaffolding — or extra-cellular matrix — that cells bind to. This causes structural weakness, leading to wrinkles. Sunlight appears to increase levels of the enzyme and accelerate its damaging effects.

11 Trillion Gallons of Water Needed To End California Drought

Soulskill posted 2 days ago | from the everybody-send-2,000-gallons-of-water-to-california dept.

NASA 315

mrflash818 points out a new study which found that California can recover from its lengthy drought with a mere 11 trillion gallons of water. The volume this water would occupy (roughly 42 cubic kilometers) is half again as large as the biggest water reservoir in the U.S. A team of JPL scientists worked this out through the use of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. From the article: GRACE data reveal that, since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased in volume by four trillion gallons of water each year (15 cubic kilometers). That's more water than California's 38 million residents use each year for domestic and municipal purposes. About two-thirds of the loss is due to depletion of groundwater beneath California's Central Valley. ... New drought maps show groundwater levels across the U.S. Southwest are in the lowest two to 10 percent since 1949.

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