Diseases, Health & Medicine, News

Scientists stumble upon a vaccine which blocks HIV in monkeys – human trials planned

T-lymphocyte. Image via David Darling.

Scientists were surprised when they unexpectedly stumbled upon a relatively simple vaccine which blocks infection with SIV – the monkey equivalent of HIV – and stops the spread of the virus in already infected monkeys. How it works All efficient vaccines against a viral infection elicit virus-specific neutralizing antibodies and sometimes also cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL) that prevent virus infection or eradicate the virus rapidly after it enters the body. So far, this has proven impossible in the case of HIV, despite huge advancements in the last couple of decades. So far, only one trial out of more than a hundred proved limited efficiency, with modest and short lasting protection. This…

News, Renewable Energy, Technology

Stanford scientists split water with device that runs on an ordinary AAA battery

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Researchers from Stanford have found a way to split water into oxygen and hydrogen using very little energy; the hydrogen they obtain could be used to power fuel cells in zero-emissions vehicles. I’m quite excited for cars that run on hydrogen, which are set to hit the market in 2015; but while they are always presented as “zero emission cars”, many of the hydrogen cars will actually use hydrogen obtained with natural gas – which is still a fossil fuel and still has considerable emissions. Hopefully, that will only be a temporary stage, and pretty soon, manufacturers will move on to greener, more sustainable solutions – like this project from Stanford University….

Biology, News

Fungus lethal for AIDS patients found growing on trees by 13 year old

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Researchers have pinpointed the source of a huge environmental threat for AIDS patients – the source of a fungal infection which has been plaguing Southern California for years; it literally grows on trees. The finding was based on the research project of a 13 year old. Cryptococcus gattii, formerly known as Cryptococcus neoformans var gattii, is an encapsulated yeast found primarily in tropical and subtropical climates. It is the cause of many pulmonary infections in humans, especially in those with compromised immune systems, like AIDS patients. Recent times have witnessed a surge of infection occurrences, arguably due to global warming.  From 1999 through to early 2008, two hundred and sixteen…

Biology, News

Zombie ant fungi ‘know’ brains of their hosts

Zombified ant - image via Wired.

A while ago, we were telling you about the infamous “zombie ant fungus” – a parasitic fungus that reproduces by manipulating the behavior of ants. It’s one of the most gruesome acts in nature – the parasite fungi infect tropical ants, literally taking control of their actions, ultimately leading the infected ant to march to its death at a mass grave near the ant colony, where the fungus spores erupt out of the ant’s head so it can spread even further, infecting more ants. Now, a new study has shown that the fungus knows how to differentiate between ant species, emitting mind controlling chemicals only when it infects its natural target host. The…

Nanotechnology, News, Technology

Programmed to Fold: RNA Origami

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A team of researchers from the Aarhus University in Denmark and CalTech has developed an origami-inspired method of organizing molecules on the nanoscale. The team has modeled RNA, DNA’s close cousin into complicated shapes using the technique. Together with DNA, RNA comprises the nucleic acids, which, along with proteins, constitute the three major macromolecules essential for all known forms of life. DNA origami is not a novel technique, but RNA origami is, and the process of creating the two is fundamentally different. While with DNA, you chemically synthesize it and then arrange it into any shape you want, with RNA, you have to fold up its components as you synthesize them -…

Biology, News

Hot-spring bacteria can make photosynthesis using far-red light

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Bacteria living in obscure environments use an extremely rare process to harvest energy and produce oxygen from sunlight – but they don’t use visible light, they use far-red light. “We have shown that some cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, can grow in far-red wavelengths of light, a range not seen well by most humans,” said Donald A. Bryant, the Ernest C. Pollard Professor of Biotechnology and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State. “Most cyanobacteria can’t ‘see’ this light either. But we have found a new subgroup that can absorb and use it, and we have discovered some of the surprising ways they manipulate their genes in order to…

Geology, News

Iceland’s volcano situation heating up again

Bardarbunga volcano. Image source.

Seismic activity is continuing at the Bárðarbunga volcano and an eruption may still take place, scientists said on Sunday, but the emergency level has been downgraded from red to orange. “There are no indications that the activity is slowing down, and therefore an eruption can not be excluded,” the Icelandic Met Office said. Over 700 earthquakes have been recorded on Sunday alone, including the strongest measured since 1996. Jay Miller, a research scientist in the  International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) agrees that the volcano could erupt at any given time. “There is a sense that it might erupt because there have been over 2,600 small earthquakes in the region recently,” Miller explains. Such…

Feature Post, Great Pics

AstroPictures of the day: Mind blowing pictures taken by Reid Wiseman from the ISS.

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The people onboard the International Space Station have been spoiling us with a lot of amazing pictures – and this one is no exception. Here, we see Africa embracing its northern neighbor, the Mediterranean sea. Reid Wiseman (which you can also follow on Twitter) often posts mind blowing pictures, like the ones above and below. All pictures taken from his Twitter, with his captions.    ……

Biology, Genetics, News

Whole organ ‘grown’ in animals for the first time

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A whole functional organ has been successfully grown in animals for the first time; a group of Scottish researchers created a group of cells which, when transplanted into a mouse, developed into a fully functional thymus – a critical part of the immune system. The findings could lead to a revolution in organ transplant. The thymus is a specialized organ of the immune system. Within the thymus, T-cells mature. T cells are critical to the adaptive immune system, where they adapt specifically to foreign invaders. Each T cell attacks a specific foreign substance which it identifies with its receptor. Scientists at the Medical Research Council centre for regenerative medicine at the…

Climate, Geology, News

‘Widespread methane leakage’ from ocean floor off US coast

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A worrying report states that over 500 bubbling methane vents were found on the seafloor off the US east coast. The unexpected finding suggests that there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate and as global waters continue to heat up, the methane will be released in large quantities. Methane hydrate (also called methane clathrate) is a compound in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice. It was initially thought to exist only in the outer regions of the Solar System, where temperatures are low and water ice is common, but since…