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Chernobyl fallout could drive evolution of 'space plants' - environment - 15 May 2009 - New Scientist

A study of radiation-resistant plants living in the Chernobyl fallout zone could lead to crops engineered to be radiation resistant so that they could be grown in space or on other planets.
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Pluripotency: Adult Mouse Cells Turned Back To Their Embryonic State

UCSF researchers have used microRNA to convert adult stem cells to pluripotent embryonic-like stem cells. The researchers home that this method will replace using retrovirus and gene-based methods as a safer alternative to generating pluripotent cells from adult stem cells that should minimize the risk of rejection. The method used combination of microRNA and retro-virus-induced genes.
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Batteries grown from 'armour-plated' viruses - tech - 08 April 2009 - New Scientist

Scientists have built a miniature rechargeable battery in which the electrodes were assembled using genetically-modified viruses. According to the developers, the process is much safer and cleaner than contemporary approaches to making electrodes for lithium ion batteries because the process takes place at room temperature and requires no harsh solvents. As a bonus, the deposited materials are nanostructured so can store and release power more quickly.

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Ten extinct beasts that could walk the Earth again - life - 07 January 2009 - New Scientist

New Scientist presents ten extinct animals which they believe it could be feasible to clone, given a modest advance in current technology and completion of present or future gene sequencing projects.
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Amateurs are trying genetic engineering at home - Yahoo! News

The article title says it all. One of the groups, DIYbio out of Cambridge, Mass. is even setting up a community lab with bargain-basement equipment to attempt anything from new vaccines to new lifeforms. Many of them have minimal formal training in the biological sciences, like San Francisco's Meredith Patterson, a computer programmer, who genetically altered yoghurt bacteria to glow green in the presence of melamine using less than $1000 worth of equipment, most of which she built herself.

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University of Montreal researchers have developed a method to train athletes brains to increase the speed at which they absorb and process information my more than 50%. The process involves repeated hour-long multiple-object tracking exercises. They were asked to identify balls with rapidly changing colour as the balls performed increasingly rapid movements.

Speaking of enhancements, an American artist and a Canadian film-maker want to have their artificial eyes replaced with webcams. Each of them have lost one of their eyes in an accident and each now wear prosthetics. Last week Tanya Vlach, an artist in San Francisco, posted an online request to engineers to design an artificial eye that contains a wireless webcam. Rob Spence of Toronto contacted her while in California attending a conference on how he intends to enhance his artificial eye with the help of Steve Mann, a University of Toronto professor. The new prosthetic wouldn't enhance their vision but would allow them to record the world from the unique perspective of one of their eyes. Spence and Mann claim that just such a device could be ready within the next six months.

A Columbian woman was the first to receive an organ grown from her own stem cells. The team of Spanish surgeons replaced her windpipe with one made by growing cells she had donated on a collagen matrix made by chemically removing all the cells from a donor windpipe. The windpipe was "grown" in a British-made bioreactor, requiring just 4 days to reach maturity. The woman is now home and living a relatively normal life.

NASA has completed the first phase of testing an Interplanetary Internet based on DTN (Disruption-Tolerant Networking). They hope to use the network to handle communications among spacecraft within our solar system.

The International Space Station turns 10 years old on Thursday.  Meanwhile, a recent experiment onboard the ISS revealed that spiders in space don't weave symmetrical webs. In fact, what they weave appears to be a disorganized tangle extending in three dimensions.

Google has reached an agreement to host almost 10 million photos from Life Magazine's library, most of which have never before been published. As of Tuesday, more than 2 million of the photos had been uploaded and made available to the public.

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Genetically modified bugs extract ethanol more efficiently than natural ones - according to Dartmouth College researchers. The team developed a set of genetically modified bacteria that could operate at 50 Celsius, and as a result were able to convert all five sugars present in wood-based cellulose, produced a product free of organic acids, and required 2.5 times less cellulase, an expensive component in the process.

Water bears survive rigours of space - Tardigrades, also known as "water bears" are tiny microscopic animals that are known to survive high pressure, intense radiation, and long periods of being dried out. A recent experiment exposed two species of tardigrades to space for 10 days, then were retrieved, returned to Earth, and rehydrated to find out how well they faired. 68% of those shielded from the sun recovered and reproduced normally. Only a few of those also exposed to the sun's rays survived to reproduce. See also this article.

Company claims to have made unclonable RFID - Verayo announced this month that they have developed an RFID chip that uses a form of electronic fingerprinting to make the chip unclonable. The idea is new so we'll see how long the claim stands.

LH Supercollider powers up tomorrow - Heads up for those of you thinking this is the end of the world. Of course, if you're right then nobody will around to say "I told you so".

Preschool bilingual children at increased risk of stuttering - but their recover rate is also higher than for unilingual children. This is based on a study of 317 children in Britain referred for stuttering.

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British researchers were able to create an embryo using the genetic contributions of three parents. The scientists started with a non-viable embryo from one woman, scrubbed it of its mitochondrial DNA, then infused it with the mitochondrial DNA of a second female donor before fertilizing it with sperm cells contributed by a third (obviously male) donor. The embryo was allowed to grow for 10 days to demonstrate it could potentially be viable before it was destroyed.

That said, the sperm didn't have to come from a male donor. British scientists have also discovered how to turn bone marrow from a female donor into sperm cells. This may allow lesbian couples to have children, albeit only female children would be produced (due to the lack of a Y-chromosome), and the child runs a significant risk of suffering sever health problems. So far, this research has been limited to experiments with mice.

Both articles found on Slashdot.
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A 65 year-old Finnish patient  had his upper jaw replaced with transplanted bone grown from his own stem cells. The stem cells were gathered from the patient's body fat, attached to a scaffold, and grown in his abdomen for nine months. Not only did bone cells grow; blood vessels and other tissue were also generated.

Found on Slashdot.
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Japanese researchers have genetically engineered mice by switching off genes that drive its instinct to fear cats. This begs the question of whether they next plan to engineer cats not to find mice tasty, or whether this is part of a plot by our feline overlords.
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Korean scientists have genetically engineered cats to glow under florescent light. Skin cells from their mother were genetically modified using a virus to make them fluoresce under UV light, which were then implanted into the ova that eventually emerged as three kittens. One was stillborn, but the others have grown to more than 3 kg and appear healthy.

Perfect for anyone who has encountered their pet's furry body as they attempt a late-night trip to the loo.

Found on Improbable Research
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Source: Seed Magazine
For those interested in a different view of science, Information Esthetics is providing, free of charge, a map of the relationships between scientific disciplines. You can order a free copy (you pay shipping and handling, but the link, when I tried it, said access was restricted) or follow the link at the Source to download your own copy. The map is a based on the inter-relationship among more than 800,00 research articles.

Source: Globe and Mail
On March 28th, tourists will officially be able to walk through the sky, 1.2 kilometres above the ground. The Grand Canyon Skywalk was built as a tourist attraction to bring revenue to the local Indian reserve and features a $30 million (US) glass-floored platform that allows walkers to gain the impression of standing more than a kilometer above the canyon floor.

Source: National Geographic
If you're a cat lover with $3,000(US) burning a hole in your pocket, the latest craze is the "Toyger" which has markings remarkably like a tiger (see photo).

Source: Nature
Mice normally see the world as a mix of greys, blues and yellows, but this is not the case with the latest in genetically-modified mice. Scientists inserted DNA that encode for red eye pigment, expanding the range of colours the mouse appears to be able to perceive. This indicates that the brain may have sufficient plasticity to accommodate the new channel of information. The article concludes with the statement that all that may be required to give humans night vision is to introduce DNA coding for pigments sensitive to ultraviolet light.

Source: National Geographic
Scientists believe that it may be possible to build shielding capable of protecting astronauts from radiation, yet is light enough to be practical to lift into space. They propose building the shield from graphite nanofibre with embedded hydrogen particles. They have not yet determined on how much of this material would be needed for a manned flight to Mars.

January 2010

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