Super productive 3D bioprinter could help speed up drug development

The high-throughput 3D bioprinting setup performing prints on a standard 96-well plate. Credit: Biofabrication

by University of California – San Diego

A 3-D printer that rapidly produces large batches of custom biological tissues could help make drug development faster and less costly. Nanoengineers at the University of California San Diego developed the high-throughput bioprinting technology, which 3-D prints with record speed—it can produce a 96-well array of living human tissue samples within 30 minutes. Having the ability to rapidly produce such samples could accelerate high-throughput preclinical drug screening and disease modeling, the researchers said.

The process for a pharmaceutical company to develop a new drug can take up to 15 years and cost up to $2.6 billion. It generally begins with screening tens of thousands of drug candidates in test tubes. Successful candidates then get tested in animals, and any that pass this stage move on to clinical trials. With any luck, one of these candidates will make it into the market as an FDA approved drug.

The high-throughput 3-D bioprinting technology developed at UC San Diego could accelerate the first steps of this process. It would enable drug developers to rapidly build up large quantities of human tissues on which they could test and weed out drug candidates much earlier.

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Norwegian Robotics Firm to Develop Underwater 3D Printer

by Michael Molitch-Hou

A Norwegian robotics firm called Kongsberg Ferrotech, which creates subsea robots for the oil and gas industry, is developing a form of underwater 3D printing for repairing pipelines below the sea. To develop the process, known as “Subsea Additive Manufacturing for Lifetime Extension”, the company is working with Equinor, SINTEF, and Gassco.

Kongsberg Ferrotech offers several robots that perform inspection, repair and maintenance (IRM) of subsea equipment. This includes a system called Nautilus, which remotely repairs pipelines using composite materials. Nautilus has passed deepwater testing in the Trondheim Fjord in Norway and the company plans to begin commercial operations in the Southeast Asian market in Q3 20201. Footage of how this process works can be seen in the video below:

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Meet the world’s first electric autonomous container ship

Michelle Lewis 

The Yara Birkeland, the world’s first net-zero, battery-powered autonomous container ship, was delivered to Norwegian fertilizer company Yara Norge AS in November 2020. It’s currently in the Norwegian port of Horten, where it’s undergoing further preparations for autonomous operation and a late 2021 launch.

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Ultra-high-density hard drives made with graphene store ten times more data

Graphene can be used for ultra-high density hard disk drives (HDD), with up to a tenfold jump compared to current technologies, researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Center have shown.

by University of Cambridge

The study, published in Nature Communications, was carried out in collaboration with teams at the University of Exeter, India, Switzerland, Singapore, and the US.

HDDs first appeared in the 1950s, but their use as storage devices in personal computers only took off from the mid-1980s. They have become ever smaller in size, and denser in terms of the number of stored bytes. While solid state drives are popular for mobile devices, HDDs continue to be used to store files in desktop computers, largely due to their favorable cost to produce and purchase.

HDDs contain two major components: platters and a head. Data are written on the platters using a magnetic head, which moves rapidly above them as they spin. The space between head and platter is continually decreasing to enable higher densities.

Currently, carbon-based overcoats (COCs) – layers used to protect platters from mechanical damages and corrosion—occupy a significant part of this spacing. The data density of HDDs has quadrupled since 1990, and the COC thickness has reduced from 12.5nm to around 3nm, which corresponds to one terabyte per square inch. Now, graphene has enabled researchers to multiply this by ten.

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Google Hopes AI Can Turn Search Into a Conversation

The tech giant wants its core product to infer meaning from human language, answer multipart questions—and look more like Google Assistant sounds.

GOOGLE OFTEN USES its annual developer conference, I/O, to showcase artificial intelligence with a wow factor. In 2016, it introduced the Google Home smart speaker with Google Assistant. In 2018, Duplex debuted to answer calls and schedule appointments for businesses. In keeping with that tradition, last month CEO Sundar Pichai introduced LaMDA, AI “designed to have a conversation on any topic.”

In an onstage demo, Pichai demonstrated what it’s like to converse with a paper airplane and the celestial body Pluto. For each query, LaMDA responded with three or four sentences meant to resemble a natural conversation between two people. Over time, Pichai said, LaMDA could be incorporated into Google products including Assistant, Workspace, and most crucially, search.

“We believe LaMDA’s natural conversation capabilities have the potential to make information and computing radically more accessible and easier to use,” Pichai said.

The LaMDA demonstration offers a window into Google’s vision for search that goes beyond a list of links and could change how billions of people search the web. That vision centers on AI that can infer meaning from human language, engage in conversation, and answer multifaceted questions like an expert.

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Google has mapped a piece of human brain in the most detail ever

Around 4000 nerve fibres connect to this single neuronGoogle/Lichtman Laboratory

By  Michael Marshall

Google has helped create the most detailed map yet of the connections within the human brain. It reveals a staggering amount of detail, including patterns of connections between neurons, as well as what may be a new kind of neuron.

The brain map, which is freely available online, includes 50,000 cells, all rendered in three dimensions. They are joined together by hundreds of millions of spidery tendrils, forming 130 million connections called synapses. The data set measures 1.4 petabytes, roughly 700 times the storage capacity of an average modern computer.

The data set is so large that the researchers haven’t studied it in detail, says Viren Jain at Google Research in Mountain View, California. He compares it to the human genome, which is still being explored 20 years after the first drafts were published.

It is the first time we have seen the real structure of such a large piece of the human brain, says Catherine Dulac at Harvard University, who wasn’t involved in the work. “There’s something just a little emotional about it.”

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NASA picks Venus as hot spot for two new robotic missions

This image made available by NASA shows the planet Venus made with data from the Magellan spacecraft and Pioneer Venus Orbiter. On Wednesday, June 2, 2021, NASA’s new administrator, Bill Nelson, announced two new robotic missions to the solar system’s hottest planet, during his first major address to employees.

by Marcia Dunn

NASA is returning to sizzling Venus, our closest yet perhaps most overlooked neighbor, after decades of exploring other worlds.

The space agency’s new administrator, Bill Nelson, announced two new robotic missions to the solar system’s hottest planet, during his first major address to employees Wednesday.

“These two sister missions both aim to understand how Venus became an inferno-like world capable of melting lead at the surface,” Nelson said.

One mission named DaVinci Plus will analyze the thick, cloudy Venusian atmosphere in an attempt to determine whether the inferno planet ever had an ocean and was possibly habitable. A small craft will plunge through the atmosphere to measure the gases.

It will be the first U.S.-led mission to the Venusian atmosphere since 1978.

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The US Navy’s new pilotless tanker plane just refueled an aircraft carrier fighter jet for the first time, and this is what it looked like

An MQ-25 refuels an F/A-18. 


By Ryan Pickrell

  • A drone has refueled a US Navy fighter jet for the first time, the Navy said Monday.
  • Boeing’s MQ-25 provided refueled an F/A-18 Super Hornet on Friday.
  • The drone will extend the reach of carrier-based fighters as the Navy changes the way it fights.

An unmanned tanker aircraft has successfully refueled a US Navy carrier-based fighter jet for the first time, the Navy announced Monday.

A Boeing MQ-25 Stingray test drone refueled an F/A-18 Super Hornet on Friday near MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, demonstrating that the new unmanned aircraft “can fulfill its tanker mission,” the Navy said.

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DOJ recovers 63.7 Bitcoins paid out in Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack

The agency tracked down the payment through the Bitcoin public ledger.

By I. Bonifacic

The US Justice Department has recovered part of the ransom Colonial Pipeline paid last month to regain access to its computer systems after it was locked out of them by “apolitical” ransomware gang Darkside. The agency says it seized 63.7 Bitcoins, worth nearly $2.3 million when it carried out the action, by tracing the cryptocurrency through the public Bitcoin ledger. The amount represents more than half of the approximately 75 Bitcoins Colonial Pipeline paid out to the group (the value of the cryptocurrency has fallen since May).

The Justice Department says it obtained the private key to the wallet the hackers used to store the currency. To recover the money, the federal government took legal action against an exchange or custodial wallet that has servers in Northern California.    

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Brain-Computer Interface Smashes Previous Record for Typing Speed

By Emily Waltz

The ancient art of handwriting has just pushed the field of brain-computer interface (BCI) to the next level. Researchers have devised a system that allows a person to communicate directly with a computer from his brain by imagining creating handwritten messages. The approach enables communication at a rate more than twice as fast as previous typing-by-brain experiments. 

Researchers at Stanford University performed the study on a 65-year-old man with a spinal cord injury who had had an electrode array implanted in his brain. The scientists described the experiment recently in the journal Nature

“The big news from this paper is the very high speed,” says Cynthia Chestek, a biomedical engineer at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study. “It’s at least half way to able-bodied typing speed, and that’s why this paper is in Nature.”

For years, researchers have been experimenting with ways to enable people to directly communicate with computers using only their thoughts, without verbal commands, hand movement, or eye movement. This kind of technology offers a life-giving communication method for people who are “locked in” from brainstem stroke or disease, and unable to speak. 

Successful BCI typing-by-brain approaches so far typically involve a person imagining moving a cursor around a digital keyboard to select letters. Meanwhile, electrodes record brain activity, and machine learning algorithms decipher the patterns associated with those thoughts, translating them into the typed words. The fastest of these previous typing-by-brain experiments allowed people to type about 40 characters, or 8 words, per minute.

That we can do this at all is impressive, but in real life that speed of communication is quite slow. The Stanford researchers were able to more than double that speed with a system that decodes brain activity associated with handwriting. 

In the new system, the participant, who had been paralyzed for about a decade, imagines the hand movements he would make to write sentences. “We ask him to actually try to write—to try to make his hand move again, and he reports this somatosensory illusion of actually feeling like his hand is moving,” says Frank Willett, a researcher at Stanford who collaborated on the experiment. 

A microelectrode array implanted in the motor cortex of the participant’s brain records the electrical activity of individual neurons as he tries to write. “He hasn’t moved his hand or tried to write in more than ten years and we still got these beautiful patterns of neural activity,” says Willett.

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Cities Have Unique Microbial ‘Fingerprints’, First Study of Its Kind Reveals

PETER DOCKRILL

Each city is populated by a unique host of microbial organisms, and this microbial ‘fingerprint’ is so distinctive, the DNA on your shoe is likely enough to identify where you live, scientists say.

In a new study, researchers took thousands of samples from mass transit systems in 60 cities across the world, swabbing common touch points like turnstiles and railings in bustling subways and bus stations across the world.

Subjecting over 4,700 of the collected samples to metagenomic sequencing (the study of genetic material collected from the environment), scientists created a global atlas of the urban microbial ecosystem, which they say is the first systematic catalog of its kind.

The results suggest that no two cities are alike, with each major metropolis studied so far revealing a unique ‘molecular echo’ of the microbial species that inhabit it, distinct from populations found in other urban environments.

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Jeff Bezos is going to space this summer

Jeff Bezos announced Monday that he and his brother Mark would be among those flying on the first passenger flight of his space company Blue Origin — via a video posted on the billionaire’s Instagram account. 

By Yacob Reyes

The big picture: The passenger flight, the New Shepard, will be launching on July 20, with Bezos and his brother joining the winner of a public auction for one of the seats. 

  • Currently, auction bidding is at $2.8 million with roughly 6,000 participants from 143 countries. 
  • The New Shepherd has flown more than a dozen successful test flights, all without passengers, per CNBC
  • “To see the Earth from space, it changes you,” Bezos said in the video. “It’s an adventure. It’s a big deal for me.”
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