About seven days after conception, something remarkable occurs in the clump of cells that will eventually become a new human being. They start to specialize. They take on characteristics that begin to hint at their ultimate fate as part of the skin, brain, muscle or any of the roughly 200 cell types that exist in people, and they start to form distinct layers.
Although scientists have studied this process in animals, and have tried to coax human embryonic stem cells into taking shape by flooding them with chemical signals, until now the process has not been successfully replicated in the lab. But researchers led by Ali Brivanlou, Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor and head of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Molecular Embryology at The Rockefeller University, have done it, and it turns out that the missing ingredient is geometrical, not chemical.
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For the first time, scientists have used sound to ‘talk’ to an artificial atom, demonstrating a curious phenomenon in quantum physics that sees sound waves take on the role of light.
The interaction between atoms and light is well known and has been studied extensively in the field of quantum optics.
However, to achieve the same kind of interaction with sound waves has been a more challenging undertaking.
The researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have now succeeded in making acoustic waves couple to an artificial atom.
"We have opened a new door into the quantum world by talking and listening to atoms," said Per Delsing, head of the experimental research group.
If Louis Pasteur were to come out of his grave because he heard that the cure for cancer still had not been found, NIH would tell him, “Of course we’ll give you assistance. Now write up exactly what you will be doing during the three years of your grant.” Pasteur would say, “Thank you very much,” and would go back to his grave. Why? Because research means going into the unknown. If you know what you are going to do in science, then you are stupid! This is like telling Michelangelo or Renoir that he must tell you in advance how many reds and how many blues he will buy, and exactly how he will put those colors together.
Astronomers have detected a mysterious signal in X-ray data from a study of galaxy clusters, and they think the X-rays could have been produced by the decay of sterile neutrinos, a type of particle proposed as a candidate for dark matter…
Why some chimpanzees are smarter than others
Is it nature? Is it nurture? Scientists think intelligence in chimps may mostly be nature, and it may help gain insight into human intelligence as well.
Researchers measured how well 99 captive chimpanzees performed on a series of cognitive tests, finding that genes determined as much as 50 percent of the animals’ performance…
In the new study, Hopkins and his colleagues gave chimpanzees at the Yerkes Primate Center, in Atlanta, a battery of cognitive tests adapted from ones developed by German researchers for comparing humans and great apes. The tests measured a range of abilities in physical cognition, such as the ability to discriminate quantity, spatial memory and tool use. The tests also examined aspects of social cognition, such as communication ability….
In addition, neither the sex of the animals nor their rearing history (whether they were raised by their mother or by humans) seemed to affect cognitive performance, the researchers found…
A new scientific report from the University of Vermont, which gathers together several decades of research, shows that the great whales which nearly became extinct in the 20th century – and are now recovering in number due to the 1983 ban on whaling – may be the enablers of massive carbon sinks via their prodigious production of faeces.
Not only do the nutrients in whale poo feed other organisms, from phytoplankton upwards – and thereby absorb the carbon we humans are pumping into the atmosphere – even in death the sinking bodies of these massive animals create new resources on the sea bed, where entire species exist solely to graze on rotting whale. There’s an additional and direct benefit for humans, too. Contrary to the suspicions of fishermen that whales take their catch, cetacean recovery could “lead to higher rates of productivity in locations where whales aggregate to feed and give birth”. Their fertilizing faeces here, too, would encourage phytoplankton which in turn would encourage healthier fisheries.
A small, flowering plant called Arabidopsis thaliana can hear the vibrations that caterpillars trigger when they chew on its leaves. According to a new study, the plants can hear danger loud and clear, and they respond by launching a chemical defense.
From anecdotes and previous studies, we know that plants respond to wind, touch, and acoustic energy. “The field is somewhat haunted by its history of playing music to plants. That sort of stimulus is so divorced from the natural ecology of plants that it’s very difficult to interpret any plant responses,” says Rex Cocroft from the University of Missouri, Columbia. “We’re trying to think about the plant’s acoustical environment and what it might be listening for.”
In this first example of plants responding to ecologically relevant vibrational sounds (i.e. predation), Cocroft and Mizzou’s Heidi Appel combined audio and chemical analyses. First, they placed a tiny piece of reflective tape on a leaf; that way, using a laser beam, they can measure the leaf’s movements as the caterpillar munches.
After they recorded the seemingly inaudible vibrational sounds of caterpillar chewing, they played the recordings back to one set of Arabidopsis plants, while silence was played to another set. To mimic the acoustic signature of feeding, they used piezoelectric actuators, tiny speakers that play vibrations instead of airborne sound. “It’s a delicate process to vibrate leaves the way a caterpillar does while feeding, because the leaf surface is only vibrated up and down by about 1/10,000 of an inch,” Cocroft explains in an university blog post. “But we can attach an actuator to the leaf with wax and very precisely play back a segment of caterpillar feeding to recreate a typical 2-hour feeding session.”
Then, they let cabbage butterfly caterpillars eat about a third of three leaves on each plant from both sets. They gave the plants 24 to 48 hours to respond to the attack, after which the leaves were harvested. “We looked at glucosinolates that make mustards spicy and have anticancer properties and anthocyanins that give red wine its color and provide some of the health benefits to chocolate,” Appel says. “When the levels of these are higher, the insects walk away or just don’t start feeding.”
…It sounds absurd because it is, in part; Stewart’s so-called Second Livestock project is actually more of a social experiment than a genuine project aiming to bring virtual reality to farm flocks. He’s pitching it via a website with a deadpan seriousness that is fairly convincing, right down to the description of what are essentially high density livestock condominium complexes that purport to generate as little waste as possible by recycling waste and using animal body heat as the source for facility environment controls.
Stewart’s MO is to create tech-based projects that shed light on our relationship with gadgets and the world, however, and the way in which we can sometimes lean too heavily on tech in pursuit of relatively simple ends without stopping to consider how we might do it better without the bells and whistles. But in the end, the project isn’t designed to purely deride tech, its users or the people he claims to be selling to. Instead, Stewart hopes to spark discussion among even audiences that normally gloss over tech pitches about what we’re creating with digital environments.