Could we be farming rather than mining metals in the future?

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Surface of Seabed Manganese Nodule from South Korea

 There are trillions of potato-sized metal nodules on the floor of the ocean around the world.

Some of these nodules are being explored for economic potential. A major vote by a UN body on the commercial exploitation of these minerals is planned in October 2020 (postponed from July 2020).

However, the formation of these metallic nodules is radically different from the processes used to create such metals on land i.e., they are biological in origin rather the geological.

This has profound implications for what the true value of life around these metallic nodules could be.

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Molecules identified that reverse cellular aging process

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A new discovery paves the way for novel drugs that could help safeguard DNA and slow the aging process

Central to a lot of scientific research into aging are tiny caps on the ends of our chromosomes called telomeres. These protective sequences of DNA grow a little shorter each time a cell divides, but by intervening in this process, researchers hope to one day regulate the process of aging and the ill health effects it can bring. A Harvard team is now offering an exciting pathway forward, discovering a set of small molecules capable of restoring telomere length in mice.

Telomeres can be thought of like the plastic tips on the end of our shoelaces, preventing the fraying of the DNA code of the genome and playing an important part in a healthy aging process. But each time a cell divides, they grow a little shorter. This sequence repeats over and over until the cell can no longer divide and dies.

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India releases first image of how Covid-19 virus looks like under electron microscope

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India becomes the first country to produce high definition images of the coronavirus. A team of scientists from the ICMR-NIV in Pune has come up with this remarkable discovery as the coronavirus pandemic continues claiming lives.

The images have been captured using a transmission electron microscope and have been published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research.

The gene sequencing of the samples from Kerala done at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune found that the virus was a 99.98 per cent match with the virus in Wuhan.

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Long narrow wires carry heat with little resistance

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Smooth-walled wire traps high energy phonons, low energy phonons carry heat.

Tiny wires may boost heat flow.

Getting rid of heat is one of the central challenges with modern technology. It doesn’t matter whether the technology is a high-end server CPU or some pathetically anemic processor in a no-brand set-top box—someone has had to think about thermal management. One of the central issues in thermal management is thermal resistance, a material’s tendency to limit the flow of heat. The thicker a material, the larger the temperature gradient required to achieve the same amount of cooling because the thermal resistance increases with thickness.

Except when it doesn’t. If the heat is carried by ballistic phonons, thermal resistance stays constant.

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Quantum researchers able to split one photon into three

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Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo report the first occurrence of directly splitting one photon into three.

 The occurrence, the first of its kind, used the spontaneous parametric down-conversion method (SPDC) in quantum optics and created what quantum optics researchers call a non-Gaussian state of light. A non-Gaussian state of light is considered a critical ingredient to gain a quantum advantage.

“It was understood that there were limits to the type of entanglement generated with the two-photon version, but these results form the basis of an exciting new paradigm of three-photon quantum optics,” said Chris Wilson, a principle investigator at IQC faculty member and a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Waterloo.

“Given that this research brings us past the known ability to split one photon into two entangled daughter photons, we’re optimistic that we’ve opened up a new area of exploration.”

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Breast milk compound found to dissolve tumors in human trials

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Hamlet Pharma Labs researching a breast milk compound which kills cancer

Swedish scientists from the University of Lund have found promising results from researching the effects of a compound found in breast milk – a substance nicknamed Hamlet (Human Alpha-Lactalbumin Made LEthal To Tumor Cells) – on bladder cancer patients. In the early trials, those injected with the compound began to shed dead tumor cells through their urine within days. The best part is, the Hamlet targeted the cancer cells alone, thus offering an alternative to chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments which damage both healthy and cancerous cells in the body.

The early trial involved 40 patients with hard-to-treat bladder cancer. All 20 who were given the drug rather than placebo, in six infusions over 22 days, excreted whole tumor fragments in their urine. Then, there was another human trial involving nine bladder cancer patients. These participants were administered five daily doses in the week before surgery to remove their tumor. Eight of them started passing tumor cells in their urine just two hours after being given the drug, and their tumors reduced in size or aggression. None of them suffered any damage to surrounding tissue. The trial was overseen by scientists from Lund University in Sweden and carried out at Motol University Hospital in Prague.

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Experimental study speeds up bone healing with 2 common medications

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In rat experiments the duo of drugs increased levels of circulating stem cells and sped up healing of a spinal fracture

A new proof-of-concept study has found a combination of two drugs, already approved by the FDA for other uses, may boost the release of stem cells from bone marrow and accelerate the healing of broken bones. Only demonstrated in animals at this stage, the researchers suggest clinical trials could progress rapidly considering the drugs have already been demonstrated as safe in humans.

“The body repairs itself all the time,” says corresponding author on the study Sara Rankin. “We know that when bones break they will heal, and this requires the activation of stem cells in the bone. However, when the damage is severe, there are limits to what the body can do of its own accord.”

A great deal of current research is focusing on mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapies. MSCs are a type of adult stem cell that can grow into a variety of different cell types including muscle, fat or bone. Many current MSC treatments in development involve extracting a small number from a patient, growing them in laboratory conditions, then injecting them back into the patient.

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What’s in your water? Researchers identify new toxic byproducts of disinfecting drinking water

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When phenols, compounds that are commonly found in drinking water, mix with chlorine, hundreds of unknown, potentially toxic byproducts are formed.

Mixing drinking water with chlorine, the United States’ most common method of disinfecting drinking water, creates previously unidentified toxic byproducts, says Carsten Prasse from Johns Hopkins University and his collaborators from the University of California, Berkeley and Switzerland.

The researchers’ findings were published this past week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

“There’s no doubt that chlorine is beneficial; chlorination has saved millions of lives worldwide from diseases such as typhoid and cholera since its arrival in the early 20th century,” says Prasse, an assistant professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University and the paper’s lead author.

“But that process of killing potentially fatal bacteria and viruses comes with unintended consequences. The discovery of these previously unknown, highly toxic byproducts, raises the question how much chlorination is really necessary.”

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Scientists come up with a method to make oxygen from moon dust

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Artist impression of activities in a Moon Base. Power generation from solar cells, food production in greenhouses and construction using mobile 3D printer-rovers.

The moon is covered in fine, delicate dust called regolith which sticks to absolutely everything and causes all sorts of technical problems. But it is an abundant resource, and plans for making use of it include melting it with lasers to use for 3D printing or packing it into bricks to build habitats. Now, the European Space Agency (ESA) has come up with a different use for the tricky substance: Turning it into oxygen which could be used by lunar explorers for breathing and for the production of fuel.

Moon regolith is known to contain about 40 to 50% oxygen by weight, but it is bound in the form of oxides so it’s not immediately usable. Researchers at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) have been investigating ways to extract this oxygen using a technique called molten salt electrolysis. The regolith is placed in a metal basket along with molten calcium chloride salt and heated to a high temperature, then an electric current is passed through it so the oxygen can be extracted. A bonus of this method is that it also produces usable metal alloys as a by-product.

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Scientists accidentally discover new, stable form of plutonium

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The team who discovered the stable new form of plutonium, standing with the ROBL spectrometer that confirmed the findK. Kvashnina/ESRF

A team of scientists has discovered a new, stable form of plutonium – and done so by accident. The famously unstable element is tricky to transport, store and dispose of, but the find could lead to new ways to tackle those problems.

Plutonium is famously unstable, which is of course what makes it both an incredibly powerful source of energy and a potentially-devastating environmental disaster. Some isotopes of plutonium can persist for tens of millions of years, which is bad news if it gets into the groundwater.

Given those stakes, it’s important to learn as much as we can about plutonium, to ensure it’s being created, used, transported, stored and disposed of as safely as possible. Scientists at the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) were doing just that when they accidentally discovered a new, stable form of plutonium.

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Four revolutionary technologies that are now obsolete

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Japan’s last pager has emitted its final beep.

Tokyo Telemessage, the country’s only remaining pager provider, shut down its radio signals this week, following decades of dwindling subscribers.

Pagers first went on sale in Japan in the 1960s and were known as pokeberu, or “pocket bells”. They were a popular way of contacting someone on the go. Callers could send a short message by dialling a pager number from a landline.

The device was initially used to reach salespeople who were out on the road, but later became a status symbol, clipped to the belts of city workers to demonstrate industriousness.

By the end of the 1980s, there were 60 million pager users worldwide. But within a decade, its popularity was rapidly overtaken by the mobile phone. In the UK, 86% of kids over six-years-old in the UK are now unable to identify a pager.

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Gene editing transforms gel into shape-shifting material

 

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The CRISPR technique can trigger the new material to release drugs or pick up biological signals

Is there anything CRISPR can’t do? Scientists have wielded the gene-editing tool to make scores of genetically modified organisms, as well as to track animal development, detect diseases and control pests. Now, they have found yet another application for it: using CRISPR to create smart materials that change their form on command.

The shape-shifting materials could be used to deliver drugs, and to create sentinels for almost any biological signal, researchers report in Science on 22 August1. The study was led by James Collins, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Collins’ team worked with water-filled polymers that are held together by strands of DNA, known as DNA hydrogels. To alter the properties of these materials, Collins and his team turned to a form of CRISPR that uses a DNA-snipping enzyme called Cas12a. (The gene-editor CRISPR–Cas9 uses the Cas9 enzyme to snip a DNA sequence at the desired point.) The Cas12a enzyme can be programmed to recognize a specific DNA sequence. The enzyme cuts its target DNA strand, then severs single strands of DNA nearby.

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