Alex Torex Blog

SciTech oriented blog

Chances of first life improved by weighted dice

EARLY life had good luck. The odds of a living organism spontaneously forming in a sea of molecules seem impossibly low, but a mathematical analysis now shows how to weight the dice just enough to get life started – then let evolution do the rest.

One way to define “life” is as a system that fights against the universal increase in entropy, a measure of disorder in systems. All known life has parts that make copies of themselves, and this ability to self-replicate is a way of fighting disorder by maintaining information over time.

Christoph Adami of Michigan State University in East Lansing decided to study the origin of life purely in terms of information theory, so he could ignore the chemistry involved. He assumed that molecules must exceed a certain length in order to have enough information to self-replicate. These long molecules are made from different kinds of short molecules, called monomers.

Adami calculates that if you start with an equal number of each type of monomer, the odds of getting a self-replicating molecule are very low. But if you adjust the distribution of monomers in the environment to match the distribution within a potential self-replicator, the chances improve by many orders of magnitude (arxiv.org/abs/1409.0590). It’s a bit like hammering randomly on a keyboard on which the most frequently used letters are proportionally larger – your odds of accidentally typing a word are much better than the famous infinite monkeys banging on typewriters.

Once a self-replicator emerges at random, evolution can start improving its abilities. “You only have to make this very first step, where you are getting some crappy replicator,” says Adami. “The moment evolution can actually work with it, you’re done.”

We have no idea what the distribution of monomers was like on early Earth, but Adami says studies show meteorites contain an unequal distribution of monomers approaching what you might need for life. “It is not impossible that basic self-replicators cooked up on some meteor and ended up contaminating Earth.”

“The fundamental puzzle of the origin of life is not the origin of the hardware, but is the origin of the software,” says astrobiologist Chris McKay of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field. Loading the monomer dice seems like a good way to get a self-replicator, he says. “This makes intuitive sense.”

Chances of first life improved by weighted dice – life – 18 September 2014 – New Scientist

September 19, 2014 Posted by | Origin of Life | Leave a comment

Will the first men on Mars wear ‘skinsuits’? Radical new design for spacesuits shrinks itself to become a second skin

‘With conventional spacesuits, you’re essentially in a balloon of gas that’s providing you with the necessary one-third of an atmosphere [of pressure,] to keep you alive in the vacuum of space,’ says Newman, who has worked for the past decade to design a form-fitting, flexible spacesuit of the future. 

‘We want to achieve that same pressurization, but through mechanical counterpressure — applying the pressure directly to the skin, thus avoiding the gas pressure altogether. 

‘We combine passive elastics with active materials. … Ultimately, the big advantage is mobility, and a very lightweight suit for planetary exploration.’

Will the first men on Mars wear ‘skinsuits’? Radical new design for spacesuits shrinks itself to become a second skin | Daily Mail Online

September 19, 2014 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

HUMAN HAMSTER WHEEL claims to make you more productive at work

Sitting in front of a computer all day can make you feel lazy, affect your posture and even cause long-term health damage.

But if you can’t afford a treadmill desk, the next best thing is to build your very own human hamster wheel.

The wheel is made of plywood, skate wheels and a pint of glue and can be fitted over an existing desk –  but you may need to get permission from your boss to use it.

HUMAN HAMSTER WHEEL claims to make you more productive at work | Daily Mail Online

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Gadgets | Leave a comment

Peter Thiel Says Computers Haven’t Made Our Lives Significantly Better

Peter Thiel has been behind some prominent technologies: he cofounded PayPal and was an early investor in such companies as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tesla Motors. But he’s convinced that technological progress has been stagnant for decades. According to Thiel, developments in computers and the Internet haven’t significantly improved our quality of life. In a new book, he warns entrepreneurs that conventional business wisdom is preventing them and society as a whole from making major advances in areas, such as energy or health, where technology could make the world a better place—though he doesn’t offer detailed answers on how we might unlock such breakthroughs. Thiel spoke to MIT Technology Review’s San Francisco bureau chief, Tom Simonite, at the offices of his venture capital firm, Founder’s Fund.

Peter Thiel Says Computers Haven’t Made Our Lives Significantly Better | MIT Technology Review

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

Brain ‘node’ that controls deep sleep discovered

When we turned on the GABA neurons in the PZ, the animals quickly fell into a deep sleep without the use of sedatives or sleep aids.’

How these neurons interact in the brain with other sleep and wake-promoting brain regions still need to be studied, the researchers say, but eventually these findings may translate into new medications for treating sleep disorders, including insomnia, and the development of better and safer anesthetics.

‘We are at a truly transformative point in neuroscience,’ says Bass, ‘where the use of designer genes gives us unprecedented ability to control the brain. 

‘We can now answer fundamental questions of brain function, which have traditionally been beyond our reach, including the ‘why’ of sleep, one of the more enduring mysteries in the neurosciences.’ 

Brain ‘node’ that controls deep sleep discovered | Daily Mail Online

September 18, 2014 Posted by | Neuroscience | Leave a comment

After Long Delays, Radical Nanopore Sequencer Finally in Labs

One day in 1989, biophysicist David Deamer pulled his car off California’s Interstate 5 to hurriedly scribble down an idea. In a mental flash, he had pictured a strand of DNA threading its way through a microscopic pore. Grabbing a pen and a yellow pad, he sketched out a radical new way to study the molecule of life.

Twenty-five years later, the idea is now being commercialized as a gene sequencing machine that’s no larger than a smartphone, and whose effects might eventually be similarly transformative.

Early versions of the instrument, called the MinION, have been reaching scientific labs over the past few months after long delays (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2012: Nanopore Sequencing”). It’s built by a U.K. company, Oxford Nanopore, that has raised $292 million and spent 10 years developing Deamer’s idea into a DNA sequencer unlike any other now available. It is four inches long and gets its power from a USB port on a computer. Unlike other commercial sequencing machines, which can be the size of a refrigerator and require jugs of pricey chemicals, this one measures DNA directly as the molecule is drawn through a tiny pore suspended in a membrane. Changes in electrical current are used to read off the chain of genetic letters, A, G, C, and T.

After Long Delays, Radical Nanopore Sequencer Finally in Labs | MIT Technology Review

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Genetics | Leave a comment

Sony KD-65X9005 review

The Good Impressive 3D performance; Good line up of smart TV apps; Fantastic sound quality.

The Bad Design looks somewhat dated; HDMI ports won’t be upgraded to V2.0 until later in the year; Not much benefit to 4K resolution at this screen size; Hugely expensive.

The Bottom Line The Sony KD-65X9005 is an excellent TV that produces some of the best pictures we’ve seen on an LED set. It also has fantastic Full HD passive 3D support and speakers that really do produce excellent audio. It’s very expensive though, and the benefits of its 4K resolution at this screen size are extremely minor. Plus its HDMI ports don’t currently support V2.0 of the HDMI standard, although an update is on the way.

Sony KD-65X9005 review – CNET

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Gadgets | Leave a comment

We can regenerate! Researchers reveal our ribs regrow if damaged – and say the same could be true for our entire skeleton

While we may not quite have the regenerative powers of a superhero, humans are surprisingly adept at regrowing ribs, researchers have found.

Researchers have analysed the capabilities in mice after spotting a human subject who was able to regrow part of a rib.

The team found that mice and humans were able to regrow removed ribs within months.  

We can regenerate! Researchers reveal our ribs regrow if damaged – and say the same could be true for our entire skeleton | Mail Online

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Health - Regenerative Medicine | Leave a comment

Mice given human brain gene learned tasks faster

  • Mice with gene linked to speech and development were faster at finding their way through a maze 
  • Researchers say the human gene increases cognitive flexibility 
  • Say gene mutation that arose more than half a million years ago may be key to humans’ unique ability to produce and understand speech

Mice given human brain gene learned tasks faster -study | Mail Online

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Genetics | Leave a comment

Boeing reveals HEL MD laser weapon that can target drones through fog and wind

It has been dubbed a ‘death ray on wheels’.

Boeing’s 10 kilowatt laser can down a drone using an array of hi-tech sensors.

And makers Boeing have even proved it can battle the weather – by tracking and firing through fog, wind and rain in its latest test.

Boeing reveals HEL MD laser weapon that can target drones through fog and wind | Mail Online

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

Scientists find exactly how our body clock works – and say discovery could mean the end of jetlag and even help fight cancer

Researcher have uncovered just what keeps our internal clock ticking. 

They say two genes – Period and Cryptochrome – keep the circadian clocks in all human cells in time and in proper rhythm with the 24-hour day, as well as the seasons.  

The finding has major implications for the development of drugs for diseases such as cancers and diabetes, as well as conditions such as metabolic syndrome, insomnia, seasonal affective disorder, obesity, and even jetlag.

Scientists find exactly how our body clock works – and say discovery could mean the end of jetlag and even help fight cancer | Mail Online

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Genetics | Leave a comment

Strati 3D Printed Electric Car

The Strati is no ordinary four wheeler, since it does not simply come off an assembly line, but rather, it has been “printed” out of a combination of carbon fiber and plastic, making use of a giant 3D printer.

As for the remaining bits and pieces such as its glass windows, headlights, motor and battery, those were added on at a later time. According to the creators of Strati, it required a mere 44 hours to come up with this ride, and the entire vehicle made use of less than 50 parts. However, as “fast” as it might look due to its sleek lines, it is not going to burn rubber or tear up the asphalt in any way, since it is capable of hitting approximately 40 miles per hour, tops. This is not the first 3D printed car, however, as there were predecessors in the form of the Urbee among others.

Strati 3D Printed Electric Car | Ubergizmo

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Gadgets | Leave a comment

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has the best display ever used in a smartphone

According to DisplayMate, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 boasts the best display they have ever tested in a smartphone. From the Note 4′s analysis:

The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has the best display ever used in a smartphone | Android and Me

September 16, 2014 Posted by | Gadgets | Leave a comment

Watermät – Bullit (Official Music Video)

▶ Watermät – Bullit (Official Music Video) [OUT NOW] – YouTube

September 15, 2014 Posted by | Music - Electronic | Leave a comment

A soft ‘wearable robot’ exosuit to increase stamina for soldiers and civilians

The lightweight device is designed to replace power-hungry battery packs and rigid components that can interfere with natural joint movement, as in heavier exoskeleton systems.

“While the idea of a wearable robot is not new, our design approach certainly is,” said Conor Walsh, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab.

It is made of soft, functional textiles woven together into a piece of smart clothing that is pulled on like a pair of pants and intended to be worn under a soldier’s regular gear. The suit mimics the action of the leg muscles and tendons when a person walks, and provides small but carefully timed assistance at the joints of the leg without restricting the wearer’s movement.

A soft ‘wearable robot’ exosuit to increase stamina for soldiers and civilians | KurzweilAI

September 15, 2014 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

Watch the U.S. quit smoking over 40 years

For almost three decades, from the late 1950s to the late 1980s, Americans consumed an average of more than 125 packs of cigarettes a year. But the combination of higher taxes on tobacco products and more education on the dangers of smoking has led to a precipitous decline in the number of people who light up. Today, Americans consume just over 46 packs of cigarettes per capita every year.

Watch the U.S. quit smoking over 40 years – The Washington Post

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Health - Life Style | Leave a comment

How Even More Apple Devices Could Get Sapphire Screens

Glass touch-screen displays are easily cracked and scratched, making them a weak point in today’s ubiquitous mobile devices. Sapphire—second only to diamond in hardness—could make such damage a thing of the past. Sapphire is already used on a few luxury smartphones and for small parts of recent iPhones, including the cover of the camera lens and thumbprint reader on the iPhone 5S. And some models of Apple’s newly announced watch include a sapphire face. In a sign of the material’s growing importance, Apple recently invested $700 million in a sapphire processing factory in Arizona.

The problem is that sapphire costs five to 10 times as much as the toughened glass used now in almost all smartphones, limiting its use to small screens or specialized devices. But in Danvers, Massachusetts, engineers at GT Advanced Technologies say they are solving the cost problem with a new manufacturing process that cheaply and efficiently produces sheets of sapphire just a quarter as thick as a piece of paper. These sheets, when laminated to a conventional glass display, can do a lot to prevent damage, since it only takes a very thin layer of sapphire to prevent scratches and to resist cracks when a phone is dropped.

How Even More Apple Devices Could Get Sapphire Screens | MIT Technology Review

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Technology | Leave a comment

Ultimate human stem cells created in the lab

A new type of human stem cell, never seen in nature, has been made in the lab. The cells may be the primordial embryonic cell from which all our cells are created. They should be better at making replacement organs than existing stem cells.

“We see it as a blank canvas, the starting point for all tissues in the body,” says Austin Smith of the University of Cambridge, who led the team that developed the cells.

Build anything

In theory stem cells can develop into any kind of cell, so they could be used to repair damaged organs or even build them from scratch. But most stem cells aren’t that flexible. The best ones are “pluripotent”, meaning they can turn into anything. Such cells have to be taken from embryos, which is controversial, or made by reverting adult cells to their embryonic state, called induced pluripotent stem cells.

 

But these pluripotent stem cells still carry genetic baggage from their previous existence. For instance, genes may have been activated for a particular course of development – into a kidney, say – or turned off by a chemical marking process called methylation.

“This [baggage] has been one of the confounding problems in this area,” says Smith. The cells aren’t completely neutral about what they develop into, and they are all different so can’t be standardised.

The new cells have had their cellular memories wiped clean. Their genes have been cleansed of most methylation markers, so they behave more predictably and transform more consistently into other tissues. The team hopes that this will make them a better building block for organs and tissues than existing embryonic stem cells.

“Nothing has been written or drawn on them to tell them what to do or become,” says Smith. “These cells could be a better and more pristine starting point.”

Ultimate human stem cells created in the lab – health – 12 September 2014 – New Scientist

September 13, 2014 Posted by | Genetics | Leave a comment

Boris The Robot Can Handle Complex Objects

Unveiled at the British Science Festival, Boris is touted to be able to load dishwashers next year. In fact, it holds the distinction of being one of the very first robots worldwide that can intelligently manipulate unfamiliar objects thanks to a grasp that is not too different from that of a human.

Developed by scientists over at the University of Birmingham, Boris took half a decade to develop, running up a total bill of £350,000 along the way. It requires 10 seconds to run an algorithm that tries to figure out up to a thousand possible ways to pick up a new object using its five robotic fingers, and will have plotted out a path of arm movements in order to reach its target so that it can avoid obstructions. This is a leap from before, since it has been specially programmed to pick items up.

Boris The Robot Can Handle Complex Objects | Ubergizmo

September 12, 2014 Posted by | Robotics | Leave a comment

‘Different’ species of human will have evolved by 2050, scientist claims

The study predicts that by 2050 a typical male worker, aged 35, will have red eyes, a smaller penis, a larger brain, advanced language skills and bioimplants to improve their performance

‘Different’ species of human will have evolved by 2050, scientist claims | Mail Online

September 11, 2014 Posted by | Evolution | Leave a comment

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