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Tara Hamilton • Author at Mirror Daily

Chemists at the University of Illinois, under the supervision of chemistry professor and medical doctor Martin D. Burke, built a molecule-making machine, which functions on the principles of a 3D-printer, but uses knowledge we gained from plants. The aim of their research was to speed up the process of generating molecules, in order to make it available to non-specialists. To achieve this, Professor Burke said, a complicated process like chemical synthesis had to be made simple, so that it could be automatized.

Most drugs available today for various medical conditions are based on small molecules – a category of complex but compact chemical structures, which are also used in solar cells and LEDs and which play an essential role in the functioning of living cells. Because these molecules are difficult to synthetize, the progress of pharmaceutical companies has been significantly slowed down so far.

To generate molecules mechanically, you have to first create their “building blocks” – smaller components that aggregate into molecules through a simple reaction, once their identical connector pieces are stitched together. In order to make the device work, Burke’s group constructed a method that adds one piece at a time and wipes away the excess before adding the next building block. Using this technique, the molecular 3D-printer can make up 14 different kinds of small molecules, some of which are very difficult to obtain by traditional methods. Now, a simple click of the mouse can set off the process, once the printer has been created.

Miles Fabian, a member of the Institute of General Medical Sciences within the National Institute of Health (which funded part of Burke’s research), declared his enthusiasm for the impact he foresees the new molecule-making machine will have on the synthetic chemistry market, as well as on research in bio sciences.

So far, the new technology has been licensed only to REVOLUTION Medicines, Inc., a company which produces anti-fungal medications, but Burke hopes that his results will be used in other therapeutic fields as well. He believes that the industrialization of the molecule-making technology will help improve the invention. The new discovery is featured on the cover of the March 13 issue of Science Magazine.

image source: Science

It was announced that Palcohol, which is the name for powdered alcohol was approved by a federal agency. The powder is meant to be mixed up into drinks.

Palcohol has just been given the green light by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The agency had given the OK for Palcohol last year, but quickly backtracked after much criticism and said that approvals had been given in error.

Tom Hogue, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau spokesperson, revealed to Associated Press that the previous issues about Palcohol were resolved and that now four varieties of the powdered alcohol have been approved. It was also added by Hogue that each U.S. state can regulate alcohol sales within their borders.

The company that produces Palcohol has sparked plenty of criticism with its powdered alcohol. Some believe that this new type of alcoholic product is going to make it easier to be abused by people, minors in particular and some might even use it in a way it wasn’t meant to be used, such as snorting it and spiking drinks with it. The product’s light weight also makes it easier for it to be put into drinks in public places and events.

Along with several other states, lawmakers in Colorado have advanced legislation to temporarily halt the sales of Palcohol.

Palcohol comes in a pouch and water gets added to the powder inside to make an alcoholic drink. The company that produces Palcohol believes that they are going to have the product for sale this summer.

Mark Phillips, the founder of Palcohol, revealed that his product was approved in a statement but he couldn’t be reached for further comment. Phillips came up with the idea for his product because he wanted a way to enjoy alcoholic beverages after hiking or other strenuous activities without having to bring along with his heavy bottles.

Tom Hogue added that the evaluation of the bureau is centered on the labels of the product and whether or not they accurately reflect what is in the product. He concluded that potential for abuse of the product is not grounds for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to deny a label.

Image Source: Techeblog

Researchers using data provided by the Dark Energy Survey have discovered nine possible dwarf galaxies that are orbiting our own Milky Way, according to a study published online on Tuesday.

Three of these can already be classified as tiny galaxies, with the rest being deemed as satellites orbiting the Milky Way until further research. They were observed along the southern sky, near the Large and Small Magellan clouds – the largest satellite galaxies that orbit our star system.

They were discovered by a joint American-British team working with data from the Dark Energy Survey, a multinational project that aims to map out vast portions of the southern sky until 2018. The ultimate stated aim of the project, that has its headquarters at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, is to understand the nature of the accelerating expansion of the Universe and the dark energy that fuels it.

The dwarf clusters were observed from data gathered with a 570-megapixel camera named the DECam, used in conjunction with a Blanco telescope from the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. This is the first time since 2006 that satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way have been observed, and also represents the largest batch of such galaxies ever discovered in one study.

Dwarf galaxies are smaller clusters composed of as few as a couple of hundreds of stars, opposed to the billions that normal galaxies such are com. These smaller galaxies usually are in orbit of bigger galaxies due to the gravitational pull they provide. The low number of stars they harbor make them extremely obscure and tough to be observed, which the reason for which only a couple of dozens of such entities have been discovered until now.

It is thought that these smaller star systems may have once been satellites to the Large and Small Magellanic clouds, but that they were thrown off-path by interaction between the two and caught in our galaxy’s orbit. Their distance from the Earth varies between 97,000 and more than 1.2 million light years.

The ultimate importance regarding the study of dwarf galaxies is that their mass is mostly formed out of dark matter rather than stars as most other clusters, which could prove an ideal study ground to find out more about elusive substance that comprises more than 84% of the known universe.

Image Source: Discovery

A new study has revealed that dirty water is killing more women than breast and AIDS put together.

Diseases can spread through dirty water and a new study has shown that poor sanitation and dirty water are the fifth biggest reason women worldwide are dying. Dirty water and poor sanitation are killing more women than diabetes, breast cancer and AIDS, it was concluded by the study authors.

Around 800,000 women die every year because they lack access to clean water and safe toilets, revealed the research was made by WaterAid, a development organization. WaterAid analyzed data that was amassed by the Institute of Health Metrics research center in Seattle.

Barbara Frost, CEO of WaterAid, stated that the unacceptable situation of poor sanitation and dirty water is affecting the education of girls and women, as well as their health and their dignity. It is also incredibly sad that in too many cases, these two factors lead to an early death of women and girls.

As mentioned, poor sanitation is the fifth killer of women in the world. The report also revealed the other 4 leading causes of death women and they are: heart disease, followed by stroke, lower respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The same WaterAid report revealed another tragic statistic: one in three women in this world (which amounts to more than 1 billion women) does not have access to a private and safe toilet, while one in ten women (around 370 million) does not have access to clean water.

Between 1990 and 2012, more than 2 billion people gained access to clean water, but around 750 million are still denied this United Nations recognized human right.

Poor sanitation and dirty water are causing issues such as a high maternal and child mortality and even sexual violence.

Many of the women who live in developing countries give birth at home and without access to a source of clean water they are exposing themselves as well as their babies to infections.

Also, without clean and safe toilets, girls and women have to go outside to relieve themselves, which in a lot of cases puts them at risk of assault and sexual harassment.

Also, in many developing and poor countries, getting the water is considered a woman’s responsibility and they can spend hours each day trekking to and from wells. Taking up so much time, getting water prevents them to care for their families and attending school.

Image Source: Snipview

Among mental disorders, which according to last month’s issue of JAMA Psychiatry can double people’s mortality risks, depression is one of the most frequent and most overlooked. However, a new study organized by doctors from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City proved that treating depression can save lives not only in terms of reducing suicidal behavior, but also in terms of improving patients’ physical condition. Of the 26,000 patients that received treatment from this medical center in 3 years, 5,311 were included in the study. They were patients with moderate or severe depression, while the remaining 21,517 (around 80% of cases) were diagnosed with mild depression or no depression (following a 9-question depression test).

The connection between stroke-preventive efficiency and treatment with antidepressants was stronger in patients with more severe cases of depression. Usually, cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins are used alongside antidepressants to lower cardiovascular risks, but this research has surprisingly shown that antidepressants alone were a better cure than both statins alone and statins combined with antidepressants. Doctor Heidi May, PhD, lead author of the study, said that the specialists had expected a cumulative effect (antidepressants plus statins were thought to work better), and found, however, that antidepressants were making a major difference. The research was focused on monitoring three risk-factors: death rates, coronary artery disease and stroke. The frequency of these three events was compared between equally depressed patients, part of whom took only antidepressants, while the other part took neither antidepressants nor statins.

To explain the improvement that antidepressants brought to the patients’ cardiovascular health, Dr. Heidi May invoked the behavioral changes triggered by antidepressants, not only affecting their mood in a positive way, but also their daily routines and consequently the activity of their cardiovascular systems. According to this specialist, assessing depression in patients early on is very important, especially now that we know it has physical consequences.

In a 2012 statistical study, published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, major depressive disorder was revealed to correlate with 17% of cardiovascular cases and 23% of cerebrovascular cases. Dr. May’s analysis took risk factors like smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure into account, but did not discriminate between patients who took counseling or started an exercise routine and patients who didn’t. The study will be presented at the 64th annual scientific session of the American College of Cardiology in San Diego, on the 15th of March.

image credit: nexus

In order to make any estimates of how fast a prehistoric animal ran or how much it ate, in order to understand its metabolism, body mass is a necessary factor to take into account, explained palaeontologist Charlotte Brassey at the Natural History Museum of London. Until now, mass was approximated on the basis of thigh-bone and upper-arm-bone dimensions. But in order to check the accuracy of this method, professor Brassey and her team of researchers scanned all the bones that had been found from a female Stegosaurus stenops (nicknamed Sophie) – 360 bones in total, representing 80% of her skeleton – and measured the volume of their digitized images. By analogy with living animals, the volume of the whole body and then the mass of the dinosaur were calculated. The results of this research were published in Biology Letters.

The Stegosaurus is estimated to have weighed 3,527 pounds during its lifetime, which is a number very close to the one calculated by measuring thighs and upper-arms. However, this new method is more reliable and thus an important confirmation for the traditional one. Furthermore, professor Brassey’s method comes to correct the initial supposition of the old calculation technique, which had produced a figure for the Stegosaurus’s weight twice as big as the one discovered now. The error in that first calculation was due to the fact that scientists hadn’t taken into consideration Sophie’s still developing body (the dinosaur was not yet mature when she died), which would have accounted for the difference between bone-mass and body-mass (because the bones grow faster in adolescence, and the body mass accumulates later on). Having adjusted this detail, the two methods of calculating the mass of the Stegosaurus reached the same number.

Having completed this project, professor Brassey’s next aim is to add muscles to the digital projection of Sophie’s skeleton in order to reconstruct the Stegosaurus’s movement.

image source: BBC news

The results of a new study revealed that sings of Alzheimer’s disease may start showing in the brain of people as young as 20. The results of the study were published in the journal Brain.

The signs of Alzheimer’s inside the brain are in the form of amyloids, which are abnormal proteins. These amyloids are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s and this new study found that amyloids can be found in people as young as 20 years old.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and statistics say that more than 5 million people in the United States are living with this disease which is also the 6th leading cause of death in the country.

Chanigz Geula, lead author of the study and research professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that the discovery that amyloid begins to accumulate so early in one’s life is simply unprecedented.

He added:

This is very significant. We know that amyloid, when present for long periods of time, is bad for you.

Geula and his colleagues have examined neurons from the brains of three groups of individuals, all deceased: 21 people with ages 60 to 95 who had Alzheimer’s, 16 people with ages 70-99 who did not have Alzheimer’s and 13 young and healthy people with ages 20 to 66.

The scientists examined their basal forebrain cholinergic neurons, which are the first to die when the brain is affected by Alzheimer’s disease. These types of neurons are associated with attention and memory.

They found that amyloid molecules began clumping inside the neurons during young age and continued throughout a person’s life. The molecules formed toxic clump and were present in people during their 20s and in other healthy young individuals. With age and for those with Alzheimer’s, the size of the clumps grew larger.

These amyloid molecule clumps damage the neurons and in time kill them.

There have been previous results that have shown minute proof of the Alzheimer’s in the brain of older individuals, but this is the first time ever, where research finds evidence of amyloid accumulation in the brain of very young people.

Image Source: Calgary CMMC

A new study performed by scientists at the University of California, Berkley have finally solved the mystery behind the Old Faithful and why geysers erupt periodically. It appears that their underground plumbing is looped with plenty of side-chambers, which causes steam to heat up the water and make it erupt. The results of the study were published in the February issue of the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research.

Volcanologists at the University of California, Berkeley, led by Carolina Munoz-Saez, a UC Berkeley graduate student from Chile and professor of Earth and Planetary Science, Michael Manga found why geysers erupt. It appears that there are that underground loops and bends that trap steam which then slowly heats up the water column above it until it is almost boiling hot. The water column boils water from the top downward, which causes steam and water to be expulsed hundreds of feet into the air.

Manga detailed their finding:

Most geysers appear to have a bubble trap accumulating the steam injected from below, and the release of the steam from the trap gets the geyser ready to erupt. You can see the water column warming up and warming up until enough water reaches the boiling point that, once the top layer begins to boil, the boiling becomes self-perpetuating.

Manga spend years understanding the mechanics behind geysers. He studied them in Yellowstone, which houses half of the world’s geysers and Chile. He and his students also build their own geyser in the laboratory from glass with a loop. This one, too erupts periodically, but not as regularly as a real geyser. El Jefe, for example, is a geyser in the Atacama Desert in Chile that erupts every 132 seconds (give or take two seconds).

There are few geysers in the world, around 1,000 and all of them are located in formerly active or active volcanic areas. Water from the Earth’s surface goes back into the soil and gets heated up by magma and then rises back to the surface in the form of mud pots, hot springs and geysers.

Manga is studying geysers to gain insight into volcanoes and volcanic eruptions, which are somewhat similar to geysers, but much harder to study and observe. He gathered his data by inserting temperature and pressure sensors 30 feet deep into geysers and correlated the data with measurements obtained from the surface by seismic sensors. This way he deduced the sequence of events from the underground that lead up to an eruption.

Manga concluded:

One of our goals is to figure out why geysers exist – why don’t you just get a hot spring – and what is it that controls how a geyser erupts, including weather and earthquakes.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Scientists have put their fingers on a new brain circuit involved in the munchies attacks that occur after smoking. It appears that the munchies are also triggered by brain cells that are supposed to turn down appetite, according to thenew study published in this week’s Nature magazine.

Scientists have found that under the influence of pot, these circuits switch their purpose. So instead of  advising you not to eat, they urge you to do so, even if your body doesn’t need any food, study author Tamas Horvath, a neurobiologist at Yale University School of Medicine explained.

“At first glance, the finding was completely “nonsensical.” It’s as if “you’re driving down a hill and you brake, brake, brake, and all of a sudden the brake becomes an accelerator,”

Horvath said.

Horvath and his team experimented on mice, by taking a look at nerve cells called pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC). They gave the mice a chemical that mimics the marijuana effects by fastening to cannabinoid receptors (the molecules in the brain involved in controlling your appetite, in feeling pain and other processes). Taking a look at the rodents’ brains to search for the active neural circuitry, they found that nerve cells that normally suppress appetite lit up.

Afterwards the team experimented turning nerve cells, or neurones on and off, while activating the cannabinoid receptors. By dampening the activity of the neurones, the mice became less likely to munch; on the other hand, while stimulating the neurones the mice were encouraged to eat more.

“We didn’t mean to find what we found. It was a simple controlled study where we wanted look at these neurons where we suspected they should be off, to see if they were off, and under these conditions if cannabinoids induce feeding. We found they sped up, which was a shocking surprise for us, “

Horvath said.

Horvath also said that his team and him are interested in finding the link between the munchies and other behavioural responses to smoking pot. For instance great things may result, as people with appetite suppression, if exposed to these cannabinoid signals, they are likely to have their hunger increased.

Google’s vice president, Vint Cerf, warned that it’s high time we started preserving the enormous amount of digital information before it’s too late and we may lose it forever. He explained that the 21st century could easily turn into a second “Dark Ages.” Technology is evolving so fast that in the near future chances are that we will no longer be able to access our information due to incompatibility issues.

“We stand to lose a lot of our history. If you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives which is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, all of the world wide web, then if you wanted to see what was on the web in 1994 you’d have trouble doing that. A lot of the stuff disappears,”

Cerf explained during a conference in San Jose, California.

The first steps humanity took as far as the digital era is concerned are likely to be lost for future historians, Mr. Cerf explained the American Association for the Advancement of Science during its annual meeting. He encouraged the development of a “digital vellum,” meant to preserve old hardware and software so that  files that are out-of-date can easily be recovered despite their date of provenience.

People are storing everything from music, photos and emails onto their personal hard drives, but the ever-developing technology will make it harder and harder to access the files through newer programs and hardware devices.

Just think of floppy disks and audio tapes that are in good condition but most people are no longer able to access due to their not having the required hardware anymore. As far as old civilisations are concerned, one only needs a pair of eyes in order to access any kind of information available as they are by excellence written on cuneiform on baked clay tablets, or on rolled papyrus scrolls, or on cave walls.

Cerf used an analogy of a classic example of valuable document recovery, explaining the fact that historians have learned how Archimedes, one of the greatest mathematician of antiquity, regarded the concept of infinity and how he anticipated calculus back in 3BC just by finding his palimpsest hidden under the words of a Byzantine prayer book dating from the 13th century.

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