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Women’s immune genes are regulated differently to men’s

Researchers have found that there’s a big difference between the way that immune system genes are switched off and on in females and the way they’re regulated in males, and it seems to be environmental factors, not DNA, that’s driving the variation. The discovery could help explain why women are so much more susceptible to autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis than men.

Even though our genetic code contains lots of different genes, not all of these are ‘active’ all the time. “Some genes are virtually always on, like the clock light on a microwave; others sit unused for years at a time, like some regrettable appliance you bought, stuffed into the back of the closet and forgot. Some genes can be always on in one person and always off in another,” Jennie Dusheck wrote in a release for Stanford University in the US, where the research was conducted.

The study used a new technique called ATAC-seq, which for the first time ever provides scientists with the ability to study the molecules that regulate all that gene switching on and off. And it revealed that the process varies vastly between individuals – particularly between males and females.

“We were interested in exploring the landscape of gene regulation directly from live people and look at differences,” lead researcher Howard Chang told Dusheck. “We asked, ‘How different or similar are people?’ This is different from asking if they have the same genes.” Source: Women’s immune genes are regulated differently to men’s, study finds

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Men need nights out with the lads, scientists say

It is the news no long-suffering wife wanted to hear: scientists have proved that every man needs a good night out with his friends. According to the research, male bonding is more likely to lower a man’s stress levels than a night out with his partner, or time spent with the family.

The study – bound to be wheeled out as an excuse by men across the country – found males suffer less anxiety when out in a group. Scientists from Germany’s University of Gottingen studied groups of Barbary macaques, a type of ape which exhibits remarkably human-like social behaviour. Levels of male stress hormone soared when male macaques were with their partner or other family members. But when they were in a group of other males, they were more much more relaxed.

The researchers even discovered stress-related illnesses only seemed to occur among females or couples. Males also look after each other, the study for the journal PNAS noted. While men may do this by watching each other’s backs, for monkeys this means picking insects and fleas out of each other’s fur.

Christopher Young of the university’s Primate Social Evolution Group said: “”If male primates live in multimale groups they usually fight fiercely over access to females, but males can develop friendly relationships with a few group mates.” Male macaques form social bonds similar to human friendships that buffer them against day-to-day stressors.” Edited from: Men need nights out with the lads, scientists say

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A new post from Alan Mason on extra-terrestrial communication.

This topic has been a source of speculation for many years, but just recently the electronic voice of Stephen Hawking has been added to the clamour to find, and communicate with intelligent extra-terrestrial life. I don’t pretend to have any better information than that possessed by the most up-to-date astronomers, but I put forward three ideas about such extra- terrestrial contacts.


It is perfectly possible that highly-intelligent life, elsewhere in the universe has been observing us for millennia. Instead of travelling millions of miles to visit us and make contact, they preferred to observe us from a distance through the medium of “Moniteurs”, spies or agents of some kind, whether through some inanimate object, such as the puppet clown (1) in the hands of the boy, or in the shape of a familiar domestic animal (2, 3), like the ever-mysterious cat.

Maybe more likely is the “taking over” a real human being, with (5) or without (4) their knowledge and consent, to carry out observations for extra- terrestrials who can see no good reason why they should try to communicate directly with us.


In complete contrast, instead of observing us closely, it might well be that intelligent extra- terrestrials have not the remotest interest in the Earth and its inhabitants. Perhaps they have been picking up our radio broadcasts since the first decade of the twentieth century, as well as television and astronomical signals, and are wholly uninterested in us, rather in the way that a President (6) might view a statement that, “A dog turd on the President’s lawn of the White House, has been trying to communicate with us by varying the levels of odorous vapours released into the atmosphere.”

An advanced civilisation might be comfortable, indolent, wholly satisfied with itself, and would regard our current attempts to communicate as impertinent or laughable. “What have the Earth people to teach us?”
Continue reading

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An inconvenient truth about Earth 2.0: it’s really far away

NASA’s discovery of Earth’s so-called ‘cousin’, Kepler–452b, is a huge astronomical achievement, no matter which way you look at it. Announced just a little over a week ago, the space agency’s stunning new find is the most Earth-like exoplanet we’ve ever discovered. It fulfills numerous criteria that make it the strongest candidate for hosting life of all the planets in the Universe the existence of which we’ve confirmed (numbering 1,030 in total, as of Kepler–452b’s discovery). So there are plenty of good reasons to be excited about Kepler–452b and the sheer achievement of locating it.

But just so we don’t get too carried away with the rush of having found what people are calling ‘Earth 2.0’, a little reality check (or two) might be in order. The thing is, Kepler–452b is really far away. Scratch that: it’s really, really, really far away. At a distance of some 1,400 light-years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation, it’s unimaginably distant from you, me, and everywhere we’ve ever been as a species (or indeed are ever likely to go). Compared to Kepler–452b, places like the Moon and Pluto – locations that you might normally think of as being far away – are in fact extremely close.

According to a report by Keith Wagstaff at NBC, even Star Trek’s USS Enterprise would have a hard time making it to Earth’s (very far removed) cousin. He says even if the ship travelled at Warp 8 to Kepler–452b, it would still take 16 months to reach its destination. And that’s for a spacecraft that can supposedly reach the speed of light – which as far as we know is theoretically impossible.

At more conventional spacecraft speeds, like that achieved by our Pluto-faring hero of the moment, New Horizons, it would take 20,000 years to travel one light-year. This would mean that the journey to Kepler–452b would take about 28 million years. Source: An inconvenient truth about Earth 2.0: it’s really far away, folks

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New York’s Empire State highlights endangered animals

New York’s famed Empire State Building hosted new guests on Saturday night as images of endangered animals were flashed across its facade. The unique display, on one of the world’s most recognisable structures, was aimed at sparking conversations about mass extinction. Pictures of snow leopards, tigers and various sea creatures were shown.A 350ft (106m) image of Cecil, the famous lion killed in Zimbabwe earlier this month, also appeared. Source: BBC News

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Inside a Kangaroo Pouch

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Hubble sees a dying star’s final moments

A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star’s demise is still quite lengthy by our standards, lasting tens of thousands of years!

The star’s agony has culminated in a wonderful planetary nebula known as NGC 6565, a cloud of gas that was ejected from the star after strong stellar winds pushed the star’s outer layers away into space. Once enough material was ejected, the star’s luminous core was exposed, enabling its ultraviolet radiation to excite the surrounding gas to varying degrees and causing it to radiate in an attractive array of colors. These same colors can be seen in the famous and impressive Ring Nebula (heic1310), a prominent example of a nebula like this one.

Planetary nebulae are illuminated for around 10,000 years before the central star begins to cool and shrink to become a white dwarf. When this happens, the star’s light drastically diminishes and ceases to excite the surrounding gas, so the nebula fades from view. Source: Image: Hubble sees a dying star’s final moments

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The simplest way to get – and stay – happy, according to psychologists

There are lots of science-backed ways we can improve our overall wellbeing and grow happier in the long-run. Here are just a few:

  • Meditate: Multiple studies suggest that meditating – focusing intently and quietly on the present for set periods of time – can help lessen feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Go outside: One study found that a group of students sent into the trees for two nights had lower levels of cortisol – a hormone often used as a marker for stress – than those who spent the same two nights in a city.
  • Get involved in cultural activities: A study that examined the anxiety, depression, and life satisfaction of over 50,000 adults in Norway offered an interesting link: People who participated in more cultural activities, like attending a play or joining a club, reported lower levels of anxiety and depression as well as a higher satisfaction with their overall quality of life.
  • Spend money on others: A 2008 study gave 46 volunteers an envelope with money in it wherein half were instructed to spend the money on themselves and the other half put the money towards a charitable donation or gift for someone they knew. The volunteers recorded their happiness level before receiving the envelope and after spending the money by the end of that same day.
  • Volunteer: In a recent review of 40 studies done over the last 20 years, researchers found that one activity was far more important than the rest for boosting psychological health: volunteering. This activity, the researchers reported, had been found in many volunteers to be linked with a reduced risk of depression, a higher amount of overall satisfaction, and even a reduced risk of death from of a physical illness as a consequence of mental distress.

Conclusion: If you’re looking to get a mood boost that’ll last you in the long-term, focus on your state of mind in the present, be grateful for what you have, and stop to enjoy it! You’ll thank yourself a few minutes – or a few years – down the road. Edited from: The simplest way to get – and stay – happy, according to psychologists

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Australian scientists have reportedly found a hangover cure

The CSIRO, Australia’s peak science body, might have stumbled across the most sought of cures in human history – the hangover remedy. The scientists have been researching pears with Horticulture Innovation Australia to discover the hidden benefits of the humble fruit. Apparently pears can lower cholesterol, relieve constipation and have anti-inflammatory effects. But the big interest is that the pear appears to ward off hangovers and at the same time lowers blood alcohol levels.Lead researcher Manny Noakes says the pears, specifically the Korean variety, act on the key enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism, alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).

To get the effect you need to drink 220 ml of Korean pear juice, although consumption of whole pears could produce a similar effect. Noakes says overall hangover severity, as measured by a 14 item hangover symptom scale, was significantly reduced. But the downside is that you’ve got to take the pear juice before hitting the alcohol. “The effect was only demonstrated if pears were consumed before alcohol consumption,” says Noakes. “There is no evidence that you can consume pears after drinking and avoid a hangover. And remember, the very best way to not get a hangover is to not drink in the first place. ”The study is only a preliminary scoping exercise with the results still to be finalised.However, Noakes and her team hope to deliver a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on pears, pear components and relevant health measures. Source: Australian scientists have reportedly found a hangover cure

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Blue Moon

Just been playing around with my graphics software. After this week’s Blue moon, this how I wished it would have looked. – Deskarati

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Researchers have engineered the world’s first artificial ribosome

Researchers in the US have developed a synthetic molecular structure called the Ribo-T, and it can be placed inside a living cell to produce specialised proteins and enzymes at almost the same efficiency as an actual ribosome.

Found inside all living cells, ribosomes are dense, complex structures that catalyse a constant stream of protein chains by linking amino acids together in the order specified by messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules. These cellular workhorses are basically in charge of decoding your DNA, and now scientists have manufactured a molecular device that can not only produce protein chains in a test-tube almost as well as a real ribosome, but can also churn out enough protein in bacterial cells without any natural ribosomes to keep them alive.

The team, with researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University, says not only will the Ribo-T help them to better understand how our own ribosomes function, but it could lead to more effective drugs and next-gen biomaterials, with these little protein factors churning out whatever we need.

“We felt like there was a small – very small – chance Ribo-T could work, but we did not really know,” one of the team, Alexander Mankin from the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a press release. The key to Ribo-T’s success was how they ended up tweaking the natural structure of their ribosome.  Source: Researchers have engineered the world’s first artificial ribosome

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Big year ahead for James Webb telescope

“Up to this point, for as long as we’ve been working on Webb, you’ve only ever really seen a cartoon of the telescope. Towards the end of this year, you will actually be able to see the James Webb Space Telescope realised in hardware.”It’s been a long time coming but we are now at the business end of building Hubble’s successor.

The spectacular new observatory that has been designed to find the “first light” to shine in the Universe is getting real.And Eric Smith, the programme director and programme scientist on this $10bn venture, is understandably quite excited by what is about to unfold in the next few months.Whereas in the past, the talk has all been about the development and manufacture of individual components, such as Webb’s instruments or its beryllium and gold mirrors – these have all now been produced (bar one or two items).

The time has come to put everything together in preparation for the big launch into orbit on an Ariane rocket in 2018. Source: Big year ahead for James Webb telescope

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Facebook’s Project Aquila

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Dubai Jet Men

Click to play

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Prostate cancer: Five types ‘found’

Scientists have identified five types of prostate cancer, each with a distinct genetic signature. And by comparing 250 samples removed in surgery with the patients’ subsequent progress, they have identified some types that are more likely to recur. Until now, there has been no reliable way to know which patients have the more aggressive cancers requiring the most urgent and intensive therapy. But much larger trials are still needed to be certain of these early results.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in UK men, with 41,700 cases diagnosed each year. Prof Malcolm Mason, of Cancer Research UK, which conducted the research with Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, said some of the types were like a pussycat – growing slowly and causing few problems, while others were like a tiger – growing and spreading aggressively. And researcher Dr Alastair Lamb said it could be possible to combine this genetic information with existing tests to identify patients most at risk. He said: “These findings could help doctors decide on the best course of treatment for each individual patient, based on the characteristics of their tumour.”

The next step is to confirm these results in bigger studies and drill down into the molecular ‘nuts and bolts’ of each specific prostate cancer type.” But he cautioned there were still many questions to be ironed out, including whether the technique could be used routinely in hospitals. Dr Iain Frame, of Prostate Cancer UK, said: “For men to truly benefit from these findings it is now vital that the research community comes together to confirm the most efficient methods for testing for different types of prostate cancer that can be bought to the clinic.” Source: Prostate cancer: Five types ‘found’

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This lamp runs on a glass of water and two teaspoons of salt

An engineering start-up called SALt has invented a lamp that burns for eight hours at a time, running on nothing but a glass of water and two teaspoons of salt. Named the SALt (Sustainable Alternative Lighting) lamp, the device will also be able to generate enough energy to charge a smartphone via the USB port, while also lighting up the room.

The lamp was invented in response to the fact that, right now, there are about 1 billion people in the world who are living without electricity. This means if they want to get anything done after dark, whether it’s walking home from school or work, or doing homework, reading, or cooking at night, they have to light their way with dangerous and expensive kerosene lamps.

The SALt lamp works with a galvanic cell battery, which consists of an electrolyte solution – the salt and water – and two electrodes. When the electrodes are placed in the electrolyte, the energy generated kicks an LED light into gear. According to the developers, the battery will work for eight hours a day for six months, which is a considerable upgrade from the constant refills required by paraffin lantern. Source: This lamp runs on a glass of water and two teaspoons of salt

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Lightning in Super Slow Motion

A clip from Discovery Channel’s “Raging Planet” on the subject of lightning. If you find lightning a fascinating beautiful force, then check this clip out. The camera technology has gotten to where scientists have been able to record and playback a lightning strike at over 200X slower with really cool results.

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Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak want to ban killer AI robots


The world’s leading robotics and artificial intelligence experts have sent an open letter to the United Nations to support a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. The letter has been signed by 700 researchers and over 600 other experts including Elon Musk, physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniack, Skype co-founder Jaan Talinn and philosopher Noam Chomsky. – Deskarati

This is the letter:

Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is – practically if not legally – feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.

Many arguments have been made for and against autonomous weapons, for example that replacing human soldiers by machines is good by reducing casualties for the owner but bad by thereby lowering the threshold for going to battle. The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.

Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilising nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.

We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.

Just as most chemists and biologists have no interest in building chemical or biological weapons, most AI researchers have no interest in building AI weapons – and do not want others to tarnish their field by doing so, potentially creating a major public backlash against AI that curtails its future societal benefits. Indeed, chemists and biologists have broadly supported international agreements that have successfully prohibited chemical and biological weapons, just as most physicists supported the treaties banning space-based nuclear weapons and blinding laser weapons.

In summary, we believe that AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.

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3D Printing

3D Printing

There are lots of different types of 3D printers. These include:

But the two that are making the headlines in the desktop arena are Stereolithography and Fused deposition modelling (FDM) or fused filament fabriction (FFF). So we thought you might like to see a couple of videos from the leaders in the field. The first is a steriolithograph machine from Formlabs and the second is an FFF machine from Makerbot. Enjoy – Deskarati

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Immortality is one step closer as scientists turn off the ageing process in worms

Will we one day be able to disable the ageing process? It sounds like an impossible goal, but scientists from Northwestern University in the US have found a way to turn off the ‘genetic switch’ that causes us to get older – in worms at least. While it won’t give us the keys to immortality just yet, the discovery could lead to new ways of making us more productive and active in the latter years of our lives.

According to the study, this genetic switch is automatically flipped when a worm reaches reproductive maturity. Stress responses that originally protect its cells by keeping vital proteins folded and functional are switched off at this point, and the ageing process begins in earnest – with the switch disabled, the cells kept up their earlier level of resistance, making the worm better able to handle the wear and tear of growing older.

It’s a big jump from worms to human beings of course, but the two researchers behind these experiments say there are enough common biological links to suggest that the same technique could be applied to other animals. The key moment is associated with reproduction, because it’s at this point that the future of the species has been guaranteed – once the next generation is born, the current generation can get out of the way. Source: Immortality is one step closer as scientists turn off the ageing process in worms

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