Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Techniques of Materials Science Come to Biology

MIT Tecnology Review
"Sticky Problems
Suresh points back to the computer screen, where Mills has captured another cell. But red blood cells are not solitary things. The parasite creates 'knobs' on the surface of a red blood cell that make it stick to healthy cells, sometimes causing clumping in the bloodstream. Such clumping can cause tremendous internal damage and even death.
'We think we can measure the force of adhesion between two cells -- a measure of the stickiness, which also plays a huge role in the development of the disease,' Suresh says. 'As far as we know, nobody has quantified that stickiness.' Suresh hopes that determining the force of adhesion will help lead to a malaria treatment that improves blood flow.
Although Suresh is excited about the biological work he's doing, he's also circumspect. Nanoscale measurement of the physical properties of biological cells is really still in its early phases, he says. 'We're just starting to put this together. It'll be five years before we start to see where we can go. We still have to understand the science. Then we can figure out the potential for treatments.'"

Friday, July 21, 2006

"Lockheed Martin to Design Nano Air Vehicle to Monitor the Urban Battlefield"

Commercial Space Watch
"The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.7-million, 10-month contract to design a revolutionary remote-controlled nano air vehicle (NAV) that will collect military intelligence indoors and outdoors on the urban battlefield.
Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories (ATL) leads a team that will design a remote-controlled NAV, similar in size and shape to a maple tree seed. A chemical rocket enclosed in its one-bladed wing will power a sensor payload module more than 1,100 yards. Delivered from a hover and weighing up to 0.07 ounces, the module will be interchangeable based on mission requirements. Besides controlling lift and pitch, the wing will also house telemetry, communications, navigation, imaging sensors, and battery power. The NAV will be about 1.5 inches long and have a maximum takeoff weight of about 0.35 ounces. " {Emphasis added.}

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Deficiency of Amygdala Neurons in Autism?

"Authors Cynthia Schumann, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego, and David Amaral, PhD, director of the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California, Davis, counted and measured neurons in the amygdala of nine postmortem autistic male brains and 10 age-matched male postmortem non-autistic brains. Ages ranged from 10 to 44 years old. Unlike previous postmortem studies, the sample excluded brains of individuals with epilepsy or similar disorders associated with cell loss in the amygdala.
Paradoxically, past research using magnetic resonance imaging with children has shown that the amygdala in young males with autism is abnormally large in volume due to precocious maturation. 'It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that there are ultimately fewer neurons in the autistic amygdala,' says Schumann."

This study points to a deficit of grey matter; below is the Carnegie Mellon research pointing to problems with white matter.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Russia Wants to Store Nuclear Waste

Washington Post: "Russian President Vladimir Putin is maneuvering to take the nuclear waste the rest of the world shuns, hoping for a financial bonanza _ and President Bush, in a reversal of U.S. policy, is offering to help."

Autism: A Wiring Problem?

Carnegie Mellon researchers discover key deficiencies in brains of people with autism: "In a pair of groundbreaking studies, brain scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have discovered that the anatomical differences that characterize the brains of people with autism are related to the way those brains process information.
Previous studies have demonstrated a lower degree of synchronization among activated brain areas in people with autism, as well as smaller size of the corpus callosum, the white matter that acts as cables to wire the parts of the brain together. This latest research shows for the first time that the abnormality in synchronization is related to the abnormality in the cabling. The results suggest that the connectivity among brain areas is among the central problems in autism. The researchers have also found that people with autism rely heavily on the parts of the brain that deal with imagery, even when completing tasks that would not normally call for visualization."

Control of Brain Activity

Technology Review: Emerging Technologies and their Impact: "Until a few years ago, selective control of brain activity was just a provocative idea. But a new version of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has, for the first time, made brain activity visible in real time. The technology was just what deCharms needed. He and his collaborator Sean Mackey, associate director of the Pain Management Division at Stanford University, have already shown that their technique works, at least in the short term. In December, they published the results of their first study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showing that both healthy subjects and chronic-pain patients could learn to control brain activity -- and pain -- using real-time fMRI."

Technology Review: Is Defeating Aging Only a Dream?

Technology Review: Is Defeating Aging Only a Dream?: "Last year, Technology Review announced a $20,000 prize for any molecular biologist who could demonstrate that biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey's 'Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence' (SENS) -- a much publicized prescription for defeating aging -- was 'so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate.' The purpose of the challenge was to determine whether de Grey's proposals were science or fantasy.
The judges of the 'SENS Challenge' were Rodney Brooks, the director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the chief technology officer of iRobot; Anita Goel, the founder and chief executive of Nanobiosym; Vikram Kumar, the cofounder and chief executive of Dimagi and a pathologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston; Nathan Myhrvold, the cofounder and chief executive of Intellectual Ventures and the former chief technology officer of Microsoft; and J. Craig Venter, the founder and president of the Venter Institute, whose computational methods hastened the completion of the Human Genome Project.
We received five submissions, of which only three met the terms of the challenge. De Grey wrote a rebuttal to each qualifying submission, and the challengers wrote responses to those rebuttals. The judges considered all these documents.
In the end, the judges felt that no submission met the criterion of the challenge and disproved SENS, although they unanimously agreed that one submission, by Preston W. Estep and his colleagues, was the most eloquent. The judges also noted, however, that de Grey had not convincingly defended SENS and that many of his ideas seemed somewhat fanciful."

NASA Gravity Probe B Mission Update 7 July 2006 | SpaceRef - Space News as it Happens

NASA Gravity Probe B Mission Update 7 July 2006 | SpaceRef - Space News as it Happens
"As of July 7, we are continuing to progress through Phase II of the data analysis process, which began at the beginning of March and is scheduled to run through late August 2006. During Phase II, our focus is on understanding and compensating for certain long-term systematic effects in the data that span weeks or months. The primary products of this phase will be monthly spin axis precession estimates for each gyro, as well as refined daily spin axis orientation estimates. In this phase, the focus remains on individual, rather than correlated gyro performance.

During June, the team made significant progress modelling the polhode motion of the gyroscopes. This polhode motion - a natural, periodic exchange of rotational energy among the inertial axes of a spinning body - does not affect the ability of the gyroscopes to measure relativistic precessions, but does introduce some subtle systematic errors that need to be removed to obtain the most accurate measurements. Using SQUID measurements of the trapped magnetic flux on the rotor, a very precise measurement of the polhode period history was identified. This information, together with the history of the spin speed of the gyroscope has allowed the team to build accurate physical models of the polhode motion and how it has evolved for each gyroscope over the mission. These models will form the base from which the effects of this class of systematic errors can be largely eliminated."