Bionic plants

Deutsch: Animation einer Kohlenstoffnanoröhre

CAMBRIDGE, MA — Plants have many valuable functions: They provide food and fuel, release the oxygen that we breathe, and add beauty to our surroundings. Now, a team of MIT researchers wants to make plants even more useful by augmenting them with nanomaterials that could enhance their energy production and give them completely new functions, such as monitoring environmental pollutants. Continue reading “Bionic plants”

How computer-generated fake papers are flooding academia

More and more academic papers that are essentially gobbledegook are being written by computer programs – and accepted at conferences
'I've written five PhDs on Heidegger just this afternoon. What next?'
‘I’ve written five PhDs on Heidegger just this afternoon. What next?’ Photograph: Blutgruppe

Like all the best hoaxes, there was a serious point to be made. Three MIT graduate students wanted to expose how dodgy scientific conferences pestered researchers for papers, and accepted any old rubbish sent in, knowing that academics would stump up the hefty, till-ringing registration fees.

It took only a handful of days. The students wrote a simple computer program that churned out gobbledegook and presented it as an academic paper. They put their names on one of the papers, sent it to a conference, and promptly had it accepted. The sting, in 2005, revealed a farce that lay at the heart of science. Continue reading “How computer-generated fake papers are flooding academia”

New system combines control programs so fleets of robots can collaborate

Robot at the Museum of Science and Technology
Robot at the Museum of Science and Technology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new system combines simple control programs to enable fleets of robots — or other ‘multiagent systems’ — to collaborate in unprecedented ways

Writing a program to control a single autonomous robot navigating an uncertain environment with an erratic communication link is hard enough; write one for multiple robots that may or may not have to work in tandem, depending on the task, is even harder. Continue reading “New system combines control programs so fleets of robots can collaborate”

Is it OK to torture or murder a robot?

Richard Fisher is the deputy editor of BBC Future.

We form such strong emotional bonds with machines that people can’t be cruel to them even though they know they are not alive. So should robots have rights?

Kate Darling likes to ask you to do terrible things to cute robots. At a workshop she organised this year, Darling asked people to play with a Pleo robot, a child’s toy dinosaur. The soft green Pleo has trusting eyes and affectionate movements. When you take one out of the box, it acts like a helpless newborn puppy – it can’t walk and you have to teach it about the world.

Yet after an hour allowing people to tickle and cuddle these loveable dinosaurs, Darling turned executioner. She gave the participants knives, hatchets and other weapons, and ordered them to torture and dismember their toys. What happened next “was much more dramatic than we ever anticipated,” she says.

Continue reading “Is it OK to torture or murder a robot?”

How ‘high-level U.S. government agency’ fell for fake femme fatale created by two hackers

By  James Nye

PUBLISHED: 00:44 EST, 4  November 2013 |  UPDATED: 08:03 EST, 4 November 2013

Two hackers staged a successful cyber-attack  on an unidentified U.S. government agency simply by setting up fake LinkedIn and  Facebook accounts posing as an attractive and smart young lady.

Creating social media profiles for a pretty  28-year-old girl named Emily Williams, the two online security experts even  managed to con government employees out of a laptop and their highly classified  network credentials.

The researchers even managed to persuade  staff at the agency, which is known for its cyberspace defenses, to click on a  corrupted e-card that obtained passwords, sensitive documents which according to  the hackers included information on state-sponsored attacks and individual  country leaders.

Duped: This photograph of Emily Williams is blurred to protect the identity of the real woman who worked in a restaurant near to the U.S. government agency who was instrumental to convincing staff to reveal classified information
Duped: This photograph of Emily Williams is blurred to  protect the identity of the real woman who worked in a restaurant near to the  U.S. government agency who was instrumental to convincing staff to reveal  classified information

The pre-Edward Snowden attack was officially  sanctioned as a test within the U.S. and security experts and carried out by  Texan firm, World Wide Technology employees Aamir Lakhani and Joseph Muniz last  year.

Explaining their findings to an audience at a  tech-conference  RSA Europe 2013 on Wednesday, October 30, Lakhani said of  the compromised e-card clicker, ‘This guy had access to everything. He had the  crown jewels in the system.’

Lakhani who works as a solutions architect at  World Wide Technology refused to reveal which agency was infiltrated but said  that the attack began last year and was conducted against a firm which  specializes in cybersecurity  and protecting national secrets.

The test began with the creation of  28-year-old Emily Williams, a fictitious MIT graduate with 10-years IT  experience, complete with a fully functional fake social media  profile.

For this Lakhani sought and gained the  permission of a local waitress who worked as a waitress at a Hooters near to the  targeted agency’s officers – however, no one during the three month test seemed  to recognize her according to ZDnet.

Bolstering her fake profile, the team created  fake profiles on other websites and forums, posting on MIT using her  name.

Convincing: This exchange shows how 'Emily Williams' made some employees of the unidentified government agency believe they were talking with an old friend
Convincing: This exchange shows how ‘Emily Williams’  made some employees of the unidentified government agency believe they were  talking with an old friend

Launching the profile of Emily Williams,  Lakhani discovered that within the first 15 hours, Williams had made 60 Facebook  connections and 55 LinkedIn connections with employees from the targeted agency  and its sub-contractors.

Incredibly she had three jobs offers from  three companies within 24 hours of her online presence being  launched.

The experiment was created to exploit a  fundamental problem with online security – mainly that people are trusting and  also attractive women experience preferential treatment in the male-dominated IT  industry.

This was born out through the fact that a  similar test using a fake male persona made zero connections.

Infiltrator: Aamir Lakhani, who works for Texas based firm World Wide Technology demonstrated how easily men in the technology world are duped by a pretty woman
Infiltrator: Aamir Lakhani, who works for Texas based  firm World Wide Technology demonstrated how easily men in the technology world  are duped by a pretty woman

More worrying for governmental online  security is the fact that Lakhani revealed that the team had achieved their  objective of infiltrating the agency within one week, but carried on for a  further 90 days.

Lakhani and Muniz carefully curated the fake  identity of Williams netting hundreds of connections.

When one slightly suspicious man asked  ‘Emily’ how they knew him, the researchers replied with information they got  from his own profile – prompting the man to reply that he did remember  her.

Once she had made connections in the agency’s  Human Resources, IT Support and with executives, Lakhani and Muniz simply  updated her profile to just-hired.

And then for the hacker’s biggest deception  that seriously compromised security.

Sending seasonal cards to specific Facebook  friends of ‘Emily’s’, the hackers waited for the recipients to click, accessing  their computers most classified details through progreams such as Browser  Exploitation Framework (BeFF).

Their deception went further: ‘Once we hooked  the target, we would look for passwords and insider information to gain access  to the target agency,’ said Lakhani.

‘We launched three campaigns targeting  systems during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

‘We were able to figure out domain  credentials to create an inside email address for Emily Williams, VPN passwords  to gain internal access and other methods to compromise our  target.’

Lakhani and Muniz may have angered some  government employees, but the pair enjoyed such success they now have requests  from other companies and organizations to try the same test.

In the RSA talk last week Lakhani said, ‘So  we also did the same type of penetration test for very large financial  institutions like banks and credit card companies, healthcare organizations and  other firms, and the results were almost exactly the same.

‘Every time we include social engineering in  our penetration tests we have a hundred percent success  rate.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2486975/How-fake-Femme-fatale-created-hackers-carried-cyber-attack-high-level-U-S-government-agency.html#ixzz2jhIH145F Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Top US climate scientists support development of safe nuclear power

Open letter to environmentalists and world leaders says wind and solar power are not enough to diminish carbon emissions

  •  Associated Press in Pittsburgh
  • theguardian.com,   Sunday 3 November 2013 11.03 EST
Nuclear power plant Gosgen Switzerland

Nuclear power is ‘very divisive’ among environmentalists but scientists argue it’s necessary. Photograph: WoodyStock / Alamy/Alamy

Some of the world’s top climate scientists say wind and solar energy won’t be enough to head off extreme global warming, and they’re asking environmentalists to support the development of safer nuclear power as one way to cut fossil fuel pollution.

Four scientists who have played a key role in alerting the public to the dangers of climate change sent letters Sunday to leading environmental groups and politicians around the world. The letter, an advance copy of which was given to the Associated Press, urges a crucial discussion on the role of nuclear power in fighting climate change.

The letter signers are James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist; Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tom Wigley, of the University of Adelaide in Australia.

Environmentalists agree that global warming is a threat to ecosystems and humans, but many oppose nuclear power and believe that new forms of renewable energy will be able to power the world within the next few decades. That isn’t realistic, the letter said.

“Those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough” to deliver the amount of cheap and reliable power the world needs, and “with the planet warming and carbon dioxide emissions rising faster than ever, we cannot afford to turn away from any technology” that has the potential to reduce greenhouse gases.

Hansen began publishing research on the threat of global warming more than 30 years ago, and his testimony before Congress in 1988 helped launch a mainstream discussion. Last February he was arrested in front of the White House at a climate protest that included the head of the Sierra Club and other activists.

Caldeira was a contributor to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Emanuel is known for his research on possible links between climate change and hurricanes, and Wigley has also been doing climate research for more than three decades.

Emanuel said the signers aren’t opposed to renewable energy sources but want environmentalists to understand that “realistically, they cannot on their own solve the world’s energy problems.”

The vast majority of climate scientists say they’re now virtually certain that pollution from fossil fuels has increased global temperatures over the last 60 years. They say emissions need to be sharply reduced to prevent more extreme damage in the future.

In 2011 worldwide carbon dioxide emissions jumped 3%, because of a large increase by China, the world’s most carbon polluting country. The US is second in carbon emissions.

Hansen, who’s now at Columbia University, said it’s not enough for environmentalists to simply oppose fossil fuels and promote renewable energy.

“They’re cheating themselves if they keep believing this fiction that all we need” is renewable energy such as wind and solar, Hansen told the AP.

The joint letter says, “the time has come for those who take the threat of global warming seriously to embrace the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems” as part of efforts to build a new global energy supply.

Stephen Ansolabehere, a Harvard professor who studies energy issues, said nuclear power is “very divisive” within the environmental movement. But he added that the letter could help educate the public about the difficult choices that climate change presents.

One major environmental advocacy organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that “nuclear power is no panacea for our climate woes.”

Risk of catastrophe is only one drawback of nuclear power, NRDC President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. Waste storage and security of nuclear material are also important issues, he said.

“The better path is to clean up our power plants and invest in efficiency and renewable energy.”

The scientists acknowledge that there are risks to using nuclear power, but say those are far smaller than the risk posed by extreme climate change.

“We understand that today’s nuclear plants are far from perfect.”

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/03/climate-scientists-support-nuclear-power

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s wounds contradict original police arrest version

Джохар Царнаев Бостон террорист

Photo: EPA

Trauma surgeon Stephen Ray Odom, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, testified on April 22 that alleged Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev suffered from a “high-powered injury” that resulted in wounds to the middle ear, the skull base, his vertebrae and his pharynx.

 A trauma surgeon detailed the suspect’s condition in a hearing the day the Chechen immigrant, who was lying in a Boston hospital bed, was first charged over the bombing attacks that killed three people and wounded about 264.

 Tsarnaev was arrested on 19 April, four days after the bombing attack, at the conclusion of a day-long lockdown of most of the Boston area that began when he and his older brother allegedly killed a police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, carjacked a man and engaged in a gunbattle in the suburb of Watertown that ended with 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev dead and Dzhokhar on the run.

 Police found the younger Tsarnaev hiding in a boat in a backyard.

 us

 Tsarnaev also sustained multiple wounds to his legs and arm but was alert and aware of his surroundings, Odom said.

 us

 However, the photographs released by Sgt. Sean Murphy, a tactical photographer with the Massachusetts State Police, shows Tsarnaev standing upright holding his hands in the air as an act of submission before being apprehended by police.

 us

 Based on the released photos, it’s obvious that Tsarnaev had not suffered from a gunshot wound to the face at this point. If he had, he most likely wouldn’t have been mobile, let alone able stand and walk towards police surrendering himself.

 Dr. Odom’s report does not state whether the wounds were self-inflicted, or caused by police during the shootout.

 Initial reports stated that police fired at Tsarnaev using rubber bullets (which is debunked through the audio of the video below), however once photos of the boat riddled with bullet holes emerged, police retracted that story replacing it with allegations that Tsarnaev was armed and firing at police.

 

 These allegations were also later debunked when reports revealed that Tsarnaev was not found with any weapons.

 According to the government’s narrative, Tsarnaev thought he was dying so he searched the boat, was able to find a pen and wrote messages inside the interior of the boat.

 It seems ridiculous to imagine Tsarnaev writing all these messages during his final moments. And of course the public can’t view the messages because the boat was so badly riddled with bullet holes, yet it was reportedly legible enough for police to make it out.

 While inconsistencies continue to plague this case, one thing is certain and that’s that the story is sure to change again, evolving in a manner that compliments the government’s agenda.

 Voice of Russia, infowars.com, The Guardian

http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_08_23/Dzhokhar-Tsarnaev-had-fractured-skull-and-injured-legs-and-arms-before-his-capture-3652/

How to sniff aliens’ gas in exoplanet atmospheres

 

ALIEN worlds have been pouring out of the sky in recent years. Exoplanet searches like those led by the Kepler space telescope predict that there are as many as 30 billion planets in our galaxy suitable for life. But how to tell which ones are inhabited?

Since the 1960s, strategies for hunting aliens rested on the assumption that they would use Earth-like chemistry – a huge assumption. Now, Sara Seager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her colleagues are broadening the search. They propose a way of identifying the signatures of non-Earth-like life forms in alien atmospheres.

Seager (see “Rockstar planet hunter: Genius award will free my brain“) and MIT colleagues William Bains and Renyu Hu suggest looking for any gas that is out of equilibrium. If, for instance, astronomers detected high concentrations of a gas that degrades naturally, that would indicate something was replenishing supplies. On Earth, oxygen, ozone and methane eliminate each other rapidly and other gases are destroyed by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Without life, those gases would not be here at all.

The team built a model that predicts how elements combine naturally in a given atmosphere. Unpredicted amounts of a molecule might indicate the presence of life. Geophysical factors like volcanoes can also keep an atmosphere stocked with gases. To tell the difference, the model calculates the mass of living things you would need on the surface to produce the outliers. If the estimate reflects a reasonable amount, then you might have just found aliens, says Seager. If it suggests a planet would have to carry more biomass than is physically plausible, the chemistry is probably not generated by alien life.

Take Saturn’s moon, Titan. Sunlight should trigger acetylene production in its atmosphere, but there is none. Some have said this could be a sign of life. Seager’s team finds that, were this the case, Titan would have to be covered in a 1.5-metre-thick layer of acetylene-eating life. What we know about its rocky, stream-covered surface suggests that is unlikely. The chemistry, the team concludes, is probably due to geological processes (Astrophysical Journal, doi.org/n5z).

“Sara’s study helps us find weird life where before we would have been flying blind,” says Shawn Domagal-Goldman of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

On planets with atmospheres dominated by hydrogen, the model predicts that methyl chloride, dimethyl sulfide and nitrous oxide could indicate the presence of life: plausible amounts of alien life at the surface could produce them in quantities that are detectable (arxiv.org/abs/1309.6016). Domagal-Goldman says future work should focus on nailing down what other processes could also produce these gases to rule out false positives.

With some luck, Seager’s alien chemical signals will be visible to the James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in 2018.

Domagal-Goldman likens Seager’s study to an opening door. “It opens the possibility that we might have a way to look for that life. That wasn’t true before. Everything we’ve found on these exoplanets has surprised us. When we start looking for life, we’re not going to be able to be surprised if we don’t know how to look for the weird stuff.”

This article appeared in print under the headline “Sniff out the alien molecules”

Alien wiretap

Listen up, NSA. If alien technology is monitoring us, we may be able to tap its communications.

In the 1980s, astronomers suggested that it might be possible to explore the galaxy with a fleet of self-replicating probes. At each new planetary system, they would mine asteroids for construction materials, build more probes and send them on to the next system, spreading across the galaxy within a few hundred million years. Some said the fact that we haven’t seen such spacecraft in our solar system means aliens have not explored the galaxy, and probably don’t exist. Michaël Gillon of the University of Liège in Belgium thinks that this conclusion is premature.

The alien probes would be too small to see easily, he says, but to be useful they would need to talk to each other. He proposes locations where probes could sit at the margins of our solar system to relay messages between them (Acta Astronautica, doi.org/n57).

We could be in the perfect position to intercept signals, he says. The Allen Telescope Array in northern California is dedicated to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and could be used for this purpose.

“It wouldn’t be a message from another star, it would be from within our solar system, so easier to detect,” Gillon says. “It’s a bit science fiction, I know. But this doesn’t require Star Trek technology.

 

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029382.800-how-to-sniff-aliens-gas-in-exoplanet-atmospheres.html#.UlYZs8Hn_Vg

New Terminator-style ‘bots can self-assemble, leap, climb and SWARM

Creepy, limbless – MIT roboticists flywheel paves way for tiny, cube-shaped overlords

By    Brid-Aine Parnell,  7th October 2013

Rise of The Machines Roboticists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a range of self-assembling cube robots, which have no external moving parts.

Despite their lack of limbs, the M-Blocks can climb over and around each other, jump into the air, roll around and even move when hanging upside down – all thanks to an inner flywheel.


The flywheel can reach speeds of 20,000rpm and when the robot cube puts the brakes on, it gives itself angular momentum. Added to this are magnets on the edges and faces of the bots that allow them to attract to each other.

“It’s one of these things that the [modular-robotics] community has been trying to do for a long time,” said Daniela Rus, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “We just needed a creative insight and somebody who was passionate enough to keep coming at it – despite being discouraged.”

Self-assembling cube-bots are already around, but those similar to M-Blocks tend to be more complex, with bits sticking out of them and a range of motors. These all allow the robots to be “statically stable”, meaning that you can pause any of their movements at any time and they’ll stay put. M-Blocks are different because they give up the ability to put things on pause.

“There’s a point in time when the cube is essentially flying through the air,” said postdoc Kyle Gilpin. “And you are depending on the magnets to bring it into alignment when it lands. That’s something that’s totally unique to this system.”

To compensate for the robots’ instability, each edge of the cube has two cylindrical magnets mounted like rolling pins, which can naturally rotate to align poles and attach to any face of any other cube. The cubes’ edges are also bevelled to allow them to pivot. Smaller magnets sit under their faces so they can “snap” into place when they land.

As with any army of modular robots, the researchers’ ultimately hope that the M-Blocks’ simplified locomotion system can be miniaturised for maximum malleability in what they can create – like the liquid metal scenario in the Terminator movies.

The full study will be presented at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in November.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/07/m_block_self_assembling_cube_robots_mit/

Print a working paper computer on an $80 inkjet

 

Ink laced with silver nanoparticles could make it a reality, to the joy of hobbyists

“IMAGINE printing out a paper computer and tearing off a corner so someone else can use part of it.” So says Steve Hodges of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK. The idea sounds fantastical, but it could become an everyday event thanks in part to a technique he helped develop.

Hodges, along with Yoshihiro Kawahara and his team at the University of Tokyo, Japan, have found a way to print the fine, silvery lines of electronic circuit boards onto paper. What’s more, they can do it using ordinary inkjet printers, loaded with ink containing silver nanoparticles. Last month Kawahara demonstrated a paper-based moisture sensor at the Ubicomp conference in Zurich, Switzerland.

Kawahara says the idea is perfect for the growing maker movementMovie Camera of inventors and tinkerers. Hobbyists will be able to test circuit designs by simply printing them out and throwing away anything that doesn’t work. That will reduce much of electronics to a craft akin to “sewing or origami”, he says.

Kawahara and Hodges say the idea also fills a gaping void in the capabilities of 3D printers, which can print the casing for a gadget but not the printed circuits that go inside it. Research on 3D printing conductive elements inside structures has not yet reached a level of sophistication for it to be useful.

“Designing a printed circuit board is not a trivial thing at all. So many people talk about 3D printing an iPhone, when all you can actually do is print a few limited components of one,” says Matt Johnson, founder of London firm Bare Conductive, which makes conductive ink for hobbyists. He says there need to be easier ways for people to create circuitry that could lend itself to novel applications such as packaging (see “Ink gets wired for sound“).

The ink used by Kawahara’s team is a silver suspension recently developed by Mitsubishi Chemical in Tokyo. Kawahara tried it out in an $80 inkjet printer and discovered that it worked well on photo-quality paper. The ink needs no heat to release its silver, and the particle size, viscosity and surface tension were just right for it to deposit flat silver conductors onto the paper. To turn these into working circuits, the team avoided soldering – which would have burned through the paper – and instead used a conducting glue to attach components like resistors and capacitors.

The moisture sensor the team has printed is meant for use on plants (see picture). It detects rainfall with one circuit and soil humidity with another, transmitting its readings via a printed Wi-Fi antenna. Hodges has printed paper wiring to connect the switch, LED and battery of a 3D-printed flashlight.

In addition, the team has shown off more complex inkjet-printed circuits, with microprocessors and memory chip connectors. In principle, these could be used to create paper-based computers that would continue to work even when broken into smaller pieces. Jürgen Steimle at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is already developing “redundant” circuit layouts with this capability, including circuitry for touchpad-like devices that work even if one part has been cut out. It raises the prospect of printed devices that people could simply tear to share.

If silver-based inkjet printing can be made affordable, Hodges says it will be a natural follow-on to Bare Conductive’s hand-drawn and paintable circuitry. Kawahara goes further: “In 20 years you really will be able to hit ‘Print’ and make yourself a mobile phone”.

This article appeared in print under the headline “Tear me to share me”

Ink gets wired for sound

Bare Conductive is a London-based start-up that makes conductive ink (see main story). This allows touch-sensitive light switches to be painted on worktops, for example. The firm also makes greeting cards that children can draw on using pens filled with the ink, connecting up batteries to LEDs to make them flash.

Now the firm wants to add audio output to its cards – and future interactive packaging – using a circuit it calls a TouchBoard. The size of a playing card, it features a simple to use Arduino processor and an MP3 chip that plays music, stories and sound effects when someone taps the painted-on, conductive buttons. A Kickstarter campaign to build TouchBoard is about to be launched.

 

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029374.500-print-a-working-paper-computer-on-an-80-inkjet.html#.Uk7bT8Hn_Vg

MIT Scientist: UN Global Waming report is hilarious

 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Not all scientists are panicking about global warming — one of them finds the alarmism “hilarious.”

A top climate scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lambasted a new report by the UN’s climate bureaucracy that blamed mankind as the main cause of global warming and whitewashed the fact that there has been a hiatus in warming for the last 15 years.

“I think that the latest IPCC report has truly sunk to level of hilarious incoherence,” Dr. Richard Lindzen told Climate Depot, a global warming news site dedicated to the issue. “They are proclaiming increased confidence in their models as the discrepancies between their models and observations increase.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claimed it was 95 percent sure that global warming was mainly driven by human burning of fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases. The I.P.C.C. also glossed over the fact that the Earth has not warmed in the past 15 years, arguing that the heat was absorbed by the ocean.

“Their excuse for the absence of warming over the past 17 years is that the heat is hiding in the deep ocean,” Lindzen added. “However, this is simply an admission that the models fail to simulate the exchanges of heat between the surface layers and the deeper oceans.”

“However, it is this heat transport that plays a major role in natural internal variability of climate, and the IPCC assertions that observed warming can be attributed to man depend crucially on their assertion that these models accurately simulate natural internal variability,” Lindzen continued. “Thus, they now, somewhat obscurely, admit that their crucial assumption was totally unjustified.”

Scientists have been struggling to explain the 15-year hiatus in global warming, and governments have been urging them to whitewash the fact that temperatures have not been rising because such data would impact the upcoming climate negotiations in 2015.

The Associated Press obtained documents that show the Obama administration and some European governments pressured UN climate scientists to downplay or even omit data that shows the world hasn’t warmed in over a decade.

“Germany called for the reference to the slowdown to be deleted, saying a time span of 10-15 years was misleading in the context of climate change, which is measured over decades and centuries,” the AP report said. “The U.S. also urged the authors to include the ‘leading hypothesis’ that the reduction in warming is linked to more heat being transferred to the deep ocean.”

Global warming skeptics have exploited such data to show that the science behind manmade global warming is faulty and politically driven.

“[I]n attributing warming to man, they fail to point out that the warming has been small, and totally consistent with there being nothing to be alarmed about,” Lindzen said. “It is quite amazing to see the contortions the IPCC has to go through in order to keep the international climate agenda going.”

 

http://macedoniaonline.eu/content/view/24009/53/

Secret Service releases first 100 pages of Aaron Swartz investigation

   Published time: August 14, 2013 00:29                                                                            

Aaron Swartz (Photo by Phillip Stearns)Aaron Swartz (Photo by Phillip Stearns)

Freshly unveiled documents indicate that the US Secret Service was involved in the investigation into Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who was awaiting trial on hacking charges when he committed suicide earlier this year.

The 104 pages, released Monday as part of an ongoing Freedom of  Information Act (FOIA) request, include a report on Swartz’s  death and mention that agents were on hand when local police  questioned people who knew Swartz.

On 1/11/13, Aaron Swartz was found dead in his  apartment in Brooklyn, as a result of an apparent suicide,”   states a Secret service memo dated January 17, 2013. “A  suppression hearing in this had been scheduled for 1/25/13 with a  trial date of 4/1/13, in US District Court of the District of  Massachusetts.”

Swartz, who co-wrote what eventually became RSS and started the  digital rights organization Demand Progress, allegedly downloaded  articles from the academic database JSTOR using the Massachusetts  Institute of Technology (MIT) campus network, intending to  distribute the articles for free online.

Federal prosecutors charged him with two counts of wire fraud and  11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Swartz could  have faced 35 years in prison and a one million dollar fine if  convicted.

The reports also show that Secret Service agents obtained  documents and electronics during a February 2011 search of  Swartz’s home and office at Harvard University.

Swartz was home at the time the search was executed,” one  documents states. “While the search was conducted, Swartz made  statements to the effect of, what took you so long, and why  didn’t you do this earlier?”

A federal judge ordered the Department of Homeland Security and  Secret Service to release their files on Swartz after a FOIA  request from Wired magazine. While the documents are heavily  redacted, Wired reported that these 104 pages are just the first  of an eventual 14,500 documents that will be released on a  rolling basis. The government estimated the reports would take  six months to process.

The pages released Monday also indicate the Secret Service was  especially interested in Swartz’s ideas outlined in the “Guerilla  Open Access Manifesto,” which advocated the liberation of data  from private entities – JSTOR’s stranglehold on academic research  articles, for instance.

Swartz’s attorney Elliot Peters told Wired earlier this year that  the prosecution was planning to focus heavily on the document  during the trial.

They were very focused on it, and appeared to be planning to  use it as evidence of Aaron’s intent to take the JSTOR material  and somehow post it online to make it available for all,”   Peters said in February. “They had spent a lot of energy  investigating that document – who wrote it, whether it conveyed  Aaron’s point of view, etc.”

The redacted documents were released just after the prosecutors  in the case, US Attorneys Stephen Heymann and Carmen Ortiz, were  accused of pursuing Swartz so doggedly for personal reasons.  Critics alleged that Heymann, in particular, decided to escalate  the case from a so-called “human level” to an   “institutional” prosecution after Swartz refused to accept  a plea deal.

 

Aaron Swartz Usss First Release 08-12-13

http://rt.com/usa/secret-service-files-swartz-investigation-464/

Japan eyes first-strike capability, Marines in defense policy update

By Linda Sieg

National Jul. 25, 2013 – 05:10PM JST ( 41 )

TOKYO —

Japan is likely to start considering acquiring the ability to launch pre-emptive military strikes in a planned update of its basic defense policies, the latest step away from the constraints of its pacifist constitution.

The expected proposal, which could sound alarm bells in China, is part of a review of Japan’s defense policies undertaken by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, an interim report on which could come as early as Friday. The final conclusions of the review are due out by the end of the year.

Abe took office in December for a rare second term, pledging to bolster the military to cope with what Japan sees as an increasingly threatening security environment including an assertive China and unpredictable North Korea.

Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, drafted by U.S. occupation forces after its defeat in World War Two, renounces the right to wage war and, if taken literally, rules out the very notion of a standing army. In reality, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are one of Asia’s strongest militaries.

The Defense Ministry will call in the interim report for a study of how to “strengthen the ability to deter and respond to ballistic missiles”, the Yomiuri newspaper and other media said on Thursday.

But in a sign of the sensitivity, the report will stop short of specifically mentioning the ability to hit enemy bases when the threat of attack is imminent, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

The ministry will also consider buying unmanned surveillance drones and creating a Marines force to protect remote islands, such as those at the core of a dispute with China, media said.

“The acquisition of offensive capability would be a fundamental change in our defense policy, a kind of philosophical change,” said Marushige Michishita, a professor at the National Graduate Institute of Policy Studies.

Obtaining that capability, however, would take time, money and training, meaning any shift may be more rhetorical than real. “It’s easier said than done,” Michishita added.

The updated guidelines could also touch on Abe’s moves toward lifting a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or helping an ally under attack, such as if North Korea launched an attack on the United States.

The defense review may also urge replacing a self-imposed ban on arms exports, that has been eased several times, making it easier for Japan’s defense contractors to join international projects and reduce procurement costs.

Some experts stressed that the changes were evolutionary rather than a sudden transformation in Japan’s defense posture.

“It’s all part of a process of Japan edging away from the most restrictive interpretation of Article 9,” said Richard Samuels, director of the MIT-Japan program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Still, given Japan’s strained ties with China over disputed isles and how to frame the narrative of Japan’s wartime history, China is likely to react strongly to the proposals, which come after Abe cemented his grip on power with a big win in a weekend election for parliament’s upper house.

“No matter how Japan explains things, China will attack it pretty harshly,” said Michael Green of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Although China has been a nuclear power for decades and North Korea is developing nuclear arms, Japan says it has no intention of doing so.

Support has grown in Japan for a more robust military because of concern about China, but opposition also remains.

Japan last updated its National Defense Program Guidelines in 2010 when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.

Those changes shifted Japan away from defending areas to its north, a Cold War legacy, to a defense capability that could respond with more flexibility to incursions to the south, the site of the row with China over tiny, uninhabited islands.

Japan has for decades been stretching the limits of Article 9 and has long said it has the right to attack enemy bases overseas when the enemy’s intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent and there are no other defense options.

But while previous administrations shied away from acquiring the hardware to do so, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in June urged the government to consider acquiring that capability.

Just what hardware might come under consideration is as yet unclear. And with a huge public debt, Japan may be in no position to afford the bill.

Japan already has a very limited attack capability with its F-2 and F-15 fighter jets, mid-air refueling aircraft and Joint Direct Attack Munition guidance kit. Tokyo also plans to buy 42 Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighters, with the first four due for delivery by March 2017.

Acquiring the ability to hit mobile missile launchers in North Korea – the most likely target – would require many more attack aircraft as well as intelligence capability for which Japan would most likely have to rely on the United States, Michishita said. Cruise missiles might also be considered.

Obtaining the ability to strike missile bases in mainland China would be an even bigger stretch, experts said, requiring for example intercontinental missiles. “It would cost lots of money, and take time, training and education to acquire a robust and meaningful capability,” Michishita said.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013

http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/japan-eyes-first-strike-capability-marines-in-defense-policy-update

 

New book documents Cold War experiments on kids

By JOANN LOVIGLIO / Associated Press / July 7, 2013

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A half century later, Charlie Dyer still vividly remembers the day he was picked to join the ‘‘Fernald Science Club.’’

It was 1954 and at 14, he had already spent nearly half his life in a succession of Massachusetts institutions that unflinchingly labeled kids like him ‘‘morons.’’ But his new place, the Fernald State School in Waltham, seemed like it might be different.

‘‘They picked some of the oldest guys and asked us if we wanted to be in this club,’’ Dyer, 72, said in an interview from his home in Watertown, Mass. ‘‘We all got together and decided, why not? We’ll get time off the grounds.’’

The boys were promised presents, outings to the seashore, trips to Fenway Park and extra helpings of oatmeal.

‘‘It was like Christmas,’’ Dyer recalled. ‘‘Red Sox games, parties. I got a Mickey Mouse watch that I still have.’’

It took decades before Dyer learned that he and the boys he still considers brothers were little more than guinea pigs. A state task force in 1994 found Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists fed the unwitting boys radioactive oatmeal and milk for a Quaker Oats nutrition study.

His story is one of many told in a new book, ‘‘Against Their Will,’’ the result of five years of gathering data from medical and university libraries and archives, medical journals and records from many of the now-shuttered state hospitals and orphanages where experiments were conducted.

‘‘We thought something wasn’t right, but we didn’t know,’’ Dyer said. ‘‘They were using the kids who they were supposed to be helping.’’

The authors interviewed nearly a dozen former test subjects, along with relatives of test subjects, medical researchers and historians.

‘‘These are throwaway, unwanted, damaged people,’’ said Allen Hornblum, one of the book’s authors. ‘‘You had the best and the brightest minds doing this stuff, doing it very cavalierly and doing it exclusively to the most vulnerable.’’

While researching his 1998 book ‘‘Acres of Skin’’ about medical experiments on inmates in Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, Hornblum came across documentation about similar experiments conducted on children and even infants.

Thousands of children warehoused in overcrowded orphanages and facilities for ‘‘feebleminded’’ children underwent spinal taps, lobotomies and electric shock. They were also exposed to viruses, radioactive and hazardous chemicals and were administered psychotropic drugs.

Often lacking legal or family advocates, they were treated in the decades after World War II as cheap and abundant raw material for trials that proved lucrative for scientists who conducted the tests and for the institutions housing the kids.

‘‘I think people are going to be shocked,’’ he said. ‘‘These aren’t inmates … these are children who are having these things done to them.’’

While disenfranchised children were used as human guinea pigs during the American eugenics fervor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hornblum said, the practice rose along with Cold War fears of nuclear and biological threats from the Soviet Union and a booming pharmaceutical industry.

In one of the most egregious cases in the book, more than 90 children as young as 6 were given large twice-daily doses of LSD — some for a year or more — as an experimental treatment for schizophrenia and autism at Creedmoor State Hospital in the New York City borough of Queens in the 1960s.

On New York’s Staten Island from the 1950s to the early 1970s, mentally disabled children at the Willowbrook State School — famously called a ‘‘snake pit’’ by Sen. Robert Kennedy after a 1965 visit — were intentionally infected with viral hepatitis by feeding them an extract made from the feces of infected patients.

In dozens of orphanages and sanitariums, children were exposed to hepatitis, meningitis, ringworm, influenza, measles, mumps and polio in the name of medical advancement. Dietary experiments induced severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies to observe the effect on the children’s health.

‘‘All of this information was out there. It was just a matter of someone pulling it together and giving it context,’’ said co-author Judith Newman, a psychologist and Penn State associate professor who teaches a course on medical ethics.

Attitudes about medical research were different then, and many prominent researchers of the era felt it was legitimate to experiment on people who did not have full rights in society — prisoners, mental patients, poor blacks, orphans — in the quest for finding cures of deadly infectious diseases.

Ethical guideposts from the Hippocratic oath to the Nuremberg code were also trumped by misguided patriotism, veneration of doctors, eugenics ideologies and the financial and career benefits for people and places that conducted and published such large clinical studies, Newman said. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that the federal government issued a report outlining principles and guidelines strictly limiting the use of children in medical research.

‘‘The last few years working on this book have been very sad,’’ she said. ‘‘The hope is that it gives voice to those thousands of children — how many thousand we don’t even know.’’

Dyer, a retired truck driver, makes ends meet with yard sales and odd jobs. He and about 30 former ‘‘Fernald Science Club’’ boys filed a class-action lawsuit that settled out of court in 1998; Dyer says they ended up with around $30,000 apiece.

What bothers him most is that the ‘‘feebleminded’’ diagnosis from his childhood remains part of his medical records.

‘‘We went to court to try to get it changed,’’ he said. ‘‘We just didn’t have any schooling; they didn’t teach us to read. I learned a lot of things on my own when I got out of there.’’

© Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Low-power Wi-Fi signal tracks movement — even behind walls

Contact: Sarah McDonnell s_mcd@mit.edu 617-253-8923 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

‘Wi-Vi’ is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging

CAMBRIDGE, MA — The comic-book hero Superman uses his X-ray vision to spot bad guys lurking behind walls and other objects. Now we could all have X-ray vision, thanks to researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Researchers have long attempted to build a device capable of seeing people through walls. However, previous efforts to develop such a system have involved the use of expensive and bulky radar technology that uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum only available to the military.

Now a system being developed by Dina Katabi, a professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and her graduate student Fadel Adib, could give all of us the ability to spot people in different rooms using low-cost Wi-Fi technology. “We wanted to create a device that is low-power, portable and simple enough for anyone to use, to give people the ability to see through walls and closed doors,” Katabi says.

The system, called “Wi-Vi,” is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging.  But in contrast to radar and sonar, it transmits a low-power Wi-Fi signal and uses its reflections to track moving humans. It can do so even if the humans are in closed rooms or hiding behind a wall.

As a Wi-Fi signal is transmitted at a wall, a portion of the signal penetrates through it, reflecting off any humans on the other side. However, only a tiny fraction of the signal makes it through to the other room, with the rest being reflected by the wall, or by other objects. “So we had to come up with a technology that could cancel out all these other reflections, and keep only those from the moving human body,” Katabi says.

Motion detector

To do this, the system uses two transmit antennas and a single receiver. The two antennas transmit almost identical signals, except that the signal from the second receiver is the inverse of the first. As a result, the two signals interfere with each other in such a way as to cancel each other out. Since any static objects that the signals hit — including the wall — create identical reflections, they too are cancelled out by this nulling effect.

In this way, only those reflections that change between the two signals, such as those from a moving object, arrive back at the receiver, Adib says. “So, if the person moves behind the wall, all reflections from static objects are cancelled out, and the only thing registered by the device is the moving human.”

Once the system has cancelled out all of the reflections from static objects, it can then concentrate on tracking the person as he or she moves around the room. Most previous attempts to track moving targets through walls have done so using an array of spaced antennas, which each capture the signal reflected off a person moving through the environment. But this would be too expensive and bulky for use in a handheld device.

So instead Wi-Vi uses just one receiver. As the person moves through the room, his or her distance from the receiver changes, meaning the time it takes for the reflected signal to make its way back to the receiver changes too. The system then uses this information to calculate where the person is at any one time.

Possible uses in disaster recovery, personal safety, gaming

Wi-Vi, being presented at the Sigcomm conference in Hong Kong in August, could be used to help search-and-rescue teams to find survivors trapped in rubble after an earthquake, say, or to allow police officers to identify the number and movement of criminals within a building to avoid walking into an ambush.

It could also be used as a personal safety device, Katabi says: “If you are walking at night and you have the feeling that someone is following you, then you could use it to check if there is someone behind the fence or behind a corner.”

The device can also detect gestures or movements by a person standing behind a wall, such as a wave of the arm, Katabi says. This would allow it to be used as a gesture-based interface for controlling lighting or appliances within the home, such as turning off the lights in another room with a wave of the arm.

Unlike today’s interactive gaming devices, where users must stay in front of the console and its camera at all times, users could still interact with the system while in another room, for example. This could open up the possibility of more complex and interesting games, Katabi says.

###

 

Written by Helen Knight, MIT News Office

Bomber’s father bizarrely claims that the FBI CALLED his son to accuse him of deadly attack two days before he was shot dead

 

Sunday, Apr 21 2013

‘That’s your problem’: Chilling response of Boston bomber after ‘FBI called  him to accuse him of deadly attack’

By  Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED: 12:47 EST, 21  April 2013 |  UPDATED: 12:59 EST, 21 April 2013

 

The parents of the suspected Boston bombers  have claimed that their oldest son received a call from the FBI accusing him of  the attack, to which he responded: ‘That’s your problem.’

Tamerlan Tsarnaeva,  who was killed following a shoot out with the police on Friday, called his  mother two or three days after the marathon bombings to tell her about the call  from the FBI, his father said.

The claims, reported by Channel 4  News, reveal how Tsarnaeva,  26, believed that the FBI was watching him. His mother previously said he had  been followed by the FBI for five years.

Family: Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev said their son claimed the FBI called him to accuse him of the bombings 

Family: Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev said their son  claimed the FBI called him to accuse him of the bombings

Channel 4 News suggested that, while it was  unlikely the FBI had called the suspect to accuse him of the heinous crime, it  was perhaps his way of preparing his parents for the news of his  involvement.

While it seems unlikely, if the claim is  true, it raises questions over how the FBI handled the case.

The agency has already come under fire for  reportedly failing to stop the brothers before they planted two bombs at the  finish line of the marathon, killing three and injuring more than  180.

It has emerged that Russian authorities  alerted the FBI about their concerns over Tsarnaeva’s links after he was spotted speaking to an  Islamic militant six times at a mosque in Dagestan last year.

Tamerlan TsarnaevDzhokhar Tsarnaev

‘Bombers’: Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, (left) and his younger  brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, (right) allegedly planted two bombs at the Boston  marathon on Monday, killing three and injuring more than 180

Hiding out: Anzor Tsarnaev, the father of the bombers, said his son claimed the FBI were on to him 

Hiding out: Anzor Tsarnaev, the father of the bombers,  said his son claimed the FBI were on to him

Now his parents are planning to visit the  U.S. to see their surviving son, 19-year-old Dzhokhar  Tsarnaev, who was found hiding in a boat following his older brother’s  death.

Zubeidat Tsarnaeva told ABC World  News in a tearful phone interview  that she fears her son will receive the death penalty.

‘I lost two sons,’ she said through tears  over the phone. ‘My family is in the dirt.’

The grieving mother did not say when she and  her husband, Anzor Tsarnaev, plan to travel to the U.S.

She told an ABC reporter based in southern  Russia that she fears she will  be unable to do so, despite her having an  American passport, because she is now the parent of a suspected  terrorist.

Tsarnaeva told an ABC News reporter in Southern Russia that she fears her 19-year-old son, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is suspected of planting two bombs at Monday's Boston Marathon with his older brother Tamerlan, will receive the death penalty 

Home: The parents of the Tsarnaeva brothers live in  Dagestan, pictured, and hope to travel to the U.S.

The couple spent the day hiding from the  crowd of journalist that flooded their neighborhood in the remote Russian region  of Dagestan, according to ABC News.

Neighbors who did speak to the press said the  Tsarneav family had no noticeable ties to Islamic fundamentalism or terrorist  factions.

One neighbor said that there was no  fanaticism among the family members living there and that the father was not too  religious.

In her phone call with ABC News reporter  Kirit Radia, Tsarnaeva reiterated the wild claims her husband has made  in  previous interviews that their two sons were framed by the U.S.  government.

 

Grieving mother: Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, the mother of the two Boston bombing suspects has said that she and her husband, Anzor Tsarnaev, plan to take a trip to the U.S. to visit their surviving son

Grieving mother: Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, the mother of the  two Boston bombing suspects has said that she and her husband, Anzor Tsarnaev,  plan to take a trip to the U.S. to visit their surviving son

'No Islamic ties': Neighbors who spoke to the press said the Tsarneav family had no noticeable ties to Islamic fundamentalism or terrorist factions‘No Islamic ties’: Neighbors who spoke to the press said  the Tsarneav family had no noticeable ties to Islamic fundamentalism or  terrorist factions

She said her oldest son Tamerlan, 26, was  investigated two years ago by the FBI only because ‘he loved Islam’ and that he  ‘didn’t do anything bad.’

The FBI said in a statement released Friday  that it had investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaeva in 2011 at the request of a foreign  government. The FBI did not reveal which country’s government that was.

‘The request stated that it was based on  information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and  that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United  States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground  groups,’ the FBI statement said.

The FBI said that in response to the request  the bureau culled through its databases and interviewed both Tamerlan Tsarnaeva  and members of his family, but were unable to find any evidence that he was  connected to a terrorist organization.

Caught: The parents hope to visit their youngest son in the U.S., who was wounded and arrested on Friday 

Caught: The parents hope to visit their youngest son in  the U.S., who was wounded and arrested on Friday

Scene: He was found cowering in this boat in Watertown, Massachusetts on Friday following a massive manhuntScene: He was found cowering in this boat in Watertown,  Massachusetts on Friday following a manhunt

 

‘The FBI did not find any terrorism activity,  domestic or foreign, and those results were provided to the foreign government  in the summer of 2011. The FBI requested but did not receive more specific or  additional information from the foreign government,’ the bureau’s statement  read.

‘They were all afraid of Tamerlan’ his mother  told ABC News referring to the U.S. government.

‘They wanted to eliminate him as a threat  because he was in love with Islam. For the last five years they were following  him.’

Tsarnaeva said the anxiety of losing both her  sons has caused her to feel so sick she needs to call for an ambulance every two  and a half hours.

‘I don’t know how to live like this,’ she  said.

 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2312534/Parents-Boston-bombers-claim-FBI-called-eldest-son-accuse-attack-responded-Thats-problem.html#ixzz2R8Bmh02i Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Harvard stripped of quiz championships for cheating

Harvard University has been stripped of a string of US quiz championship titles after a cheating scandal was uncovered by organisers.

Championships awarded to the Ivy League college, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2009 and 2010, and two separate titles from 2011, were revoked and handed to the original runners-up.

Championships awarded to the Ivy League college, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2009 and 2010, and two separate titles from 2011, were revoked and handed to the original runners-up.  Photo: ALAMY
Jon Swaine

By , New York

5:50PM GMT 24 Mar 2013

A competitor from America’s most prestigious university was found to have accessed a website that listed questions that were to be asked in the National Academic Quiz Tournament (NAQT).

For three successive years, Andy Watkins, a member of Harvard’s “A” team, viewed pages that displayed the first 40 characters of forthcoming questions, NAQT officials said.

Mr Watkins, who graduated in 2011, had basic access to the tournament database because he wrote questions for a schools quiz competition as well as competing in the national university-age contest.

Championships awarded to the Ivy League college, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2009 and 2010, and two separate titles from 2011, were revoked and handed to the original runners-up.

Organisers said in a statement that while they had “neither direct nor statistical evidence” that Harvard had directly benefited from the security breach, “it goes against competitors’ expectations of fair play.”

The tournament sees teams of four students competing to answer questions chosen from across the “entire spectrum of a college curriculum” as well “current events, sports, and popular culture” in a set time limit. Teams that win their regional championship qualify for the national Intercollegiate Championship Tournament.

During the 2011 contest, Mr Watkins impressed observers by buzzing in to correctly answer a question on the history of Thailand, securing the defeat of the University of Minnesota in the final round.

Mr Watkins, who had gone on to work for the quiz tournament after graduating, admitted accessing the web pages in a statement, yet insisted: “I did compete in good faith”. He has resigned from NAQT.

“I regret my breaches of question security,” he said. “It will surprise no one that my mental health as an undergraduate was always on the wrong side of ‘unstable’, but that does not excuse my actions, nor does it ameliorate the damage done.

“I hold my team-mates from all three years to be champions today exactly as they were yesterday,” he went on. “I hope that they will consider themselves in the same light, even if my indiscretions mean that the record books cannot.”

Michael Arnold, a member of the University of Chicago team that was retrospectively awarded the 2010 Division I championship due to Mr Watkins’s cheating, said he was glad justice had been done.

“It’s too bad that the other members of those Harvard teams have been hurt by Andy’s actions, since they’re good citizens within the quiz bowl community,” he told Insider Higher Education.

The quiz cheating scandal was uncovered when the performance of a student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suddenly improved dramatically, prompting curious organisers to inspect the server logs from its questions database.

They found that Mr Watkins and students from three other universities had accessed the question pages. One championship title was stripped from each of the other three colleges.

NAQT said in its statement that it had launched a review of security following the discovery of cheating in previous years. Organisers have found “no signs of similar behaviour” in the approach to this year’s tournament, it said.

The saga has caused fresh embarrassment for Harvard soon after what was described as the biggest academic cheating scandal in the university’s history. Some 125 politics students were investigated by university authorities after similarities were noted in their take-home final examination essays.

Last month Michael Smith, the Dean of the university’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said that “more than half” of those investigated were forced to “withdraw from the college for a period of time”.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9951267/Harvard-stripped-of-quiz-championships-for-cheating.html

Researchers explore quantum entanglement: superluminal

Contact: Leanne Yohemas lmyohema@ucalgary.ca 402-220-7722 University of Calgary

Paper in Physical Review Letters delves into phenomenon Einstein called ‘spooky’

Albert Einstein called quantum entanglement—two particles in different locations, even on other sides of the universe, influencing each other—”spooky action at a distance.”

Einstein made the comment while criticizing quantum mechanics as incomplete—the phenomenon of quantum entanglement seems to be at odds with Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“Eighty years after Einstein, quantum physics is still so mysterious that there are many different interpretations of its physical meaning. All the interpretations agree on what is going to be observed in any given experiment, but they each tell different stories of how these observations come about,” says Christoph Simon with the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Faculty of Science at the University of Calgary.

Simon and his colleague, Boris Braverman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown this spooky action at a distance in research published today in Physical Review Letters. The paper proposes a way in which the effect can be shown experimentally.

“We consider spooky action at a distance in the framework of an interpretation from the English physicist David Bohm who posited that every quantum particle has a well-defined position and velocity,” says Simon.

“If the two particles are entangled, then performing an action on one has an immediate effect on the other and our paper shows how this effect can be demonstrated in an experiment with entangled photons.”

Entangled photons present an exciting new method of secure communications—it’s impossible for people to listen in. But this phenomenon can’t be used for communication faster than the speed of light (what physicists call superluminal), allowing quantum physical systems to obey Einstein’s theory of relativity, which posits that things can’t communicate faster than light.

There is either no explanation for this—it’s magic and somehow there are the same outcomes on each side—or the communication between photons is superluminal, which is problematic given the theory of relativity. “There has to be a way out,” says Simon.

“Different pairs of particles coming from the same source have slightly different positions and velocities,” he says. “If you observe just one of the two particles from a pair, you can’t be sure if a variation in its velocity, say, is due to the long-distance influence of its partner, or whether it is just a statistical fluctuation. In this way the peaceful coexistence of quantum physics and relativity is preserved.”

A possible answer for protection against chemical/biological agents, fuel leaks, and coffee stains

Contact: Robert White robert.white@afosr.af.mil Air Force Office of Scientific Research

A recent discovery funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research may very well lead to a process that not only benefits every uniformed service member of the Department of Defense, but everyone else as well

A recent discovery funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) may very well lead to a process that not only benefits every uniformed service member of the Department of Defense, but everyone else as well: protection from Chemical/Biological agents, to self-cleaning apparel, to effortless thermal management, to fuel purification as well as enhanced control of leaks—especially oil and fuels.

In 2006, AFOSR Program Manager Dr. Charles Lee funded Professor Gareth McKinley at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology exploring nanocomposite technology for Defense applications.  Anish Tuteja, an MIT doctoral student at the time, was exploiting the unusual surface properties of a nanocomposite with fluorinated nanoparticles, to create a superoleophobic surface.  After graduation, Tuteja moved to University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he is currently an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, specializing in chemical engineering and macromolecular science and engineering. He was awarded a Young Investigator Program grant from AFOSR in 2011, and continued to conduct the same line of research begun at MIT.  His team also included doctoral student Shuaijun Pan and postdoctoral researcher Arun Kota, as well as collaboration with Dr. Joseph Mabry, from the Rocket Propulsion Division of the Air Force Research Laboratory, at Edwards AFB, California.

In their latest paper, “Superomniphobic Surfaces for Effective Chemical Shielding,” in the current issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Tuteja and his team have demonstrated surfaces that effectively perform as “chemical shields against virtually all liquids.”

To make this possible, surfaces are prepared using a nanoscale coating that is approximately 95 percent air, which in turn, repels liquids of any material in its class, causing them to literally bounce off the treated surface.  The surfaces “possess hierarchical scales of re-entrant texture that significantly reduce the solid−liquid contact area.” It all comes down to controlling how much contact the liquid ultimately has with the treated surface.  To accomplish that the researchers apply the nanoscale coating using a process called electrospinning—using an electric charge to create fine particles of solid derived from a liquid solution.

The coating is a mixture of cross-linked “polydimethylsiloxane,” or PDMS, and liquid-resisting nanoscale cubes developed by the Air Force that contain carbon, fluorine, silicon and oxygen. While the material’s chemistry is important, so is its texture, because it hugs the pore structure of whatever surface it is applied to, and creates a fine web of air pockets within those pores, so any liquid that comes in contact with the coating is barely touching a solid surface.

According to Dr. Tuteja, when an untreated surface and a liquid get in close proximity, “they imbue a small positive or negative charge on each other, and as soon as the liquid comes in contact with the solid surface, it will start to spread….we’ve drastically reduced the interaction between the surface and the droplet.”  By effectively eliminating the contact between the treated surface and the liquid, there is almost no incentive for the liquid to spread, as such, the droplets stay intact, interacting only with molecules of themselves, and maintaining their spherical shape.

The research team has tested more than 100 liquids and found only two that were able to penetrate the coating: they were both chlorofluorocarbons—chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners. In Tuteja’s lab demonstrations the surface repelled coffee, soy sauce and vegetable oil, as well as toxic hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, and the surfaces are also resistant to gasoline and various alcohols.

This program is of particular interest to the Air Force and the Department of Defense, as it can be useful for self-cleaning surfaces (in particular, integral breathable protective Chemical/Biological Warfare defense in uniform clothing and sensor systems), improvement of thermal management efficiency in phase change cooling systems, fuel purification and the control of oil and fuel leakages in rockets and airplanes.  Not to mention, protection against the everyday coffee spill.

CU-Boulder team develops swarm of pingpong ball-sized robots

December 14, 2012

University of Colorado Boulder Assistant Professor Nikolaus Correll likes to think in multiples. If one robot can accomplish a singular task, think how much more could be accomplished if you had hundreds of them.

Correll and his computer science research team, including research associate Dustin Reishus and professional research assistant Nick Farrow, have developed a basic robotic building block, which he hopes to reproduce in large quantities to develop increasingly complex systems.

Recently the team created a swarm of 20 robots, each the size of a pingpong ball, which they call “droplets.” When the droplets swarm together, Correll said, they form a “liquid that thinks.”

To accelerate the pace of innovation, he has created a lab where students can explore and develop new applications of robotics with basic, inexpensive tools.

Similar to the fictional “nanomorphs” depicted in the “Terminator” films, large swarms of intelligent robotic devices could be used for a range of tasks. Swarms of robots could be unleashed to contain an oil spill or to self-assemble into a piece of hardware after being launched separately into space, Correll said.

Correll plans to use the droplets to demonstrate self-assembly and swarm-intelligent behaviors such as pattern recognition, sensor-based motion and adaptive shape change. These behaviors could then be transferred to large swarms for water- or air-based tasks.

Correll hopes to create a design methodology for aggregating the droplets into more complex behaviors such as assembling parts of a large space telescope or an aircraft.

In the fall, Correll received the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development award known as “CAREER.” In addition, he has received support from NSF’s Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research program, as well as NASA and the U.S. Air Force.

He also is continuing work on robotic garden technology he developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2009. Correll has been working with Joseph Tanner in CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department to further develop the technology, involving autonomous sensors and robots that can tend gardens, in conjunction with a model of a long-term space habitat being built by students.

Correll says there is virtually no limit to what might be created through distributed intelligence systems.

“Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells,” he said. “Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers.”

For a short video of Correll’s team developing swarm droplets visit http://www.colorado.edu/news/multimedia/researchers-creating-team-tiny-robots. For more information about CU-Boulder’s computer science department visit http://www.colorado.edu/engineering/academics/degree/computer-science.

Entangle Schrödinger’s cat to up its quantum weirdness

Nothing is more adorable than a kitten playing with string, but when Schrödinger’s cat becomes entangled, things get really weird.Two research teams have independently added an extra layer of quantum oddity – the property of entanglement – to a test of wave-particle duality, a real-life demonstration of the ideas captured by physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment involving a box and a precarious puss.

This extra layer of entanglement lets the researchers delay measuring the results of the test for an indefinite amount of time, even though the measurement itself is supposed to have determined earlier on whether a photon is behaving as a particle or a wave at a particular point in the experiment. It’s the equivalent of putting off the decision to check whether Schrödinger’s cat is alive, dead or something in between, for as long as you like.

Understanding this doubly quantum effect could be useful when building quantum computers and communication networks, which depend on entanglement to function.

Precarious cat

Both research groups achieved the effect by creating a new version of the “delayed choice” experiment. Devised by physicist John Wheeler around 30 years ago, it involves an interferometer that contains two beam splitters. The first splits the incoming beam of light, and the second recombines them, producing an interference pattern.

Such a device demonstrates wave-particle duality in the following way. If light is sent into the interferometer a single photon at a time, the result is still an interference pattern – even though a single photon cannot be split. The explanation is that the photon is behaving as a wave, which is capable of being split.

What’s more, if you remove the device that recombines the two beams, interference is no longer possible, and the photon emerges from the interferometer as a particle. So you can control whether the beam acts as a particle or a wave- by the presence or absence of the second beam splitter.

This ability to be both a particle and a wave is reminiscent of Schrödinger’s cat, an imaginary puss in a box whose fate depends on a radioactive atom. Because the atom’s decay is governed by quantum mechanics – and so only takes a definite value when it is measured – the cat is, somehow, both dead and alive until the box is opened. Choosing to measure the photon as a particle is akin to opening the box and discovering whether the cat is dead or alive, while measuring it as a wave leaves the box closed with the cat in a superposition, both dead and alive at once.

Delayed choice

The “delayed choice” comes in because, bizarrely, this ability to control the photon’s character simply by measurement works even if you decide whether or not to remove the second beam splitter after the photon has passed through the first one. “The question that Wheeler posed was whether the photon knows in advance how to behave,” says Alberto Peruzzo at the University of Bristol, UK.

The answer was no: the light remains in an undecided state of both unsplittable particle and splittable wave, even after it has passed through the very device that would split it.

Now Peruzzo and colleagues have taken Wheeler’s idea one step further by replacing the second beam splitter with a quantum version that is simultaneously operational and non-operational.

This quantum beam splitter can be in this dual state because it is intimately linked to a second photon outside the interferometer via a process called entanglement. This ensures that the second beam splitter’s state – whether it is operational or not – depends on the second photon, and can only be determined by measuring the state of that second photon.

Quantum coolness

The researchers found that this allowed them to delay the photon’s wave or particle quality until after it has passed through all the experimental equipment, including the second beam splitter tasked with determining that very thing. “We can delay by a few nanoseconds, but in principle it’s equivalent to delaying as much as you want,” explains Peruzzo.

Meanwhile, Sébastien Tanzilli at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis in France and colleagues have shown exactly the same thing using a slightly different set-up.

The upshot of both experiments can be cast in the language of Schrödinger’s cat. “Long after the cat has supposedly been killed or not, one can choose to determine if it is dead or alive or determine if it is dead and alive,” says Seth Lloyd at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not involved in either experiment.

“There aren’t so many experimentally accessible demonstrations of quantum weirdness available, and this is one of the coolest,” he adds.

Peruzzo also reckons the effect could have practical applications. Because the bits in a quantum computer are entangled, they could be affected by the same bizarre effects. “Every technology that will use quantum information will have to take this into account,” he says.

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1226719 and 10.1126/science.1226755

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22453-entangle-schrodingers-cat-to-up-its-quantum-weirdness.html

Are downloadable memories just around the corner? ( Using light repsonse as a Binary Code model )

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED:18:49 EST, 26  October 2012| UPDATED:18:49 EST, 26 October 2012

A scientist at MIT could be on track to  uncovering how to restore lost memories in the brain.

Using light stimulation to control neurons  and map out brain activity, scientists could repair neuron functionality in  cases where a stroke, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases have caused  reduced brain functionality.

Dr Ed Boyden, a researcher at the  Massachusetts university, is studying how to code brain pathways and eventually  could discover how to code memories and re-upload that information to restore  neuron functionality.

Scroll down  for video.

Image concept of a network of neurons in the human brain.

Brain science: There are approximately 100 billion  neurons in the human brain, which scientists are attempting to map and control  (stock image)

Ray of light:

Ray of light: A protein, channelrhodopsin (ChR) which is  actually extracted from algae, can be inserted into neurons to convert light  into electricity

The human brain has approximately 100 billion  neurons that pass along information.

Dr Boyden, who leads the Synthetic  Neurobiology Group at the MIT Media  Lab, is studying how to use light to  control neuron activity and to decode brain patterns.

He has identified a protein,  channelrhodopsin (ChR) which is actually extracted from algae, that can  convert light into electricity.

Ed Boyden

Dr Ed Boyden leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group at  the MIT Media Lab

When this protein is inserted into neurons it  prompts neurons to respond to flashing lights and send an electrical signal.

With this inserted protein in place, Boyden  and his team could begin mapping out electrical signals sent in the brain triggered by light, using a specially  designed computer program.

The impact of light could become an ‘on-off’  switch for neuron activity.

Additionally, the light sensitive  protein  could allow the brain to be translated into a binary code that  allows for the  mapping of these complex pathways.

If brain pathways could be coded, it would  allow for that information to be converted and stored.

Memories could be coded and that code saved,  available to be re-introduced should neuron functionality diminish over time.

Testing in mice has proved successful in  treating brain disorders and as the experiments continue, it  could greatly  impact treatments for debilitating brain degeneration

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2223834/Are-downloadable-memories-just-round-corner.html#ixzz2ATYlPzZH Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Glutamine supplements show promise in treating stomach ulcers

2009 study posted for filing

Contact: Bonnie Prescott
bprescot@bidmc.harvard.edu
617-667-7306
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Amino acid helps offset stomach damage caused by H. pylori bacteria; animal study suggests popular supplement could also reduce risk of gastric cancers

BOSTON – Nearly 20 years ago, it was discovered that bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori were responsible for stomach ulcers. Since then, antibiotics have become the primary therapy used to combat the H. pylori infection, which affects approximately six percent of the world population and is also a primary cause of stomach cancer. But today the bacteria is growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

Now a study led by scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrates that the amino acid glutamine, found in many foods as well as in dietary supplements, may prove beneficial in offsetting gastric damage caused by H. pylori infection. Reported in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Nutrition., the findings offer the possibility of an alternative to antibiotics for the treatment of stomach ulcers.

“Our findings suggest that extra glutamine in the diet could protect against gastric damage caused by H. pylori,” says senior author Susan Hagen, PhD, Associate Director of Research in the Department of Surgery at BIDMC and Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. “Gastric damage develops when the bacteria weakens the stomach’s protective mucous coating, damages cells and elicits a robust immune response that is ineffective at ridding the infection.” Eventually, she notes, years of infection result in a combination of persistent gastritis, cell damage and an environment conducive to cancer development.

Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid naturally found in certain foods, including beef, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products and some fruits and vegetables. L-glutamine – the biologically active isomer of glutamine – is widely used as a dietary supplement by body builders to increase muscle mass.

Hagen and her coauthors had previously shown that glutamine protects against cell death from H. pylori-produced ammonia. “Our work demonstrated that the damaging effects of ammonia on gastric cells could be reversed completely by the administration of L-glutamine,” explains Hagen. “The amino acid stimulated ammonia detoxification in the stomach – as it does in the liver – so that the effective concentration of ammonia was reduced, thereby blocking cell damage.”

She and her coauthors, therefore, hypothesized that a similar mechanism might be at work in the intact stomach infected with H. pylori. To test this hypothesis, the investigators divided 105 mice into two groups, which were fed either a standardized diet (containing 1.9 percent glutamine) or the same diet with supplemental L-glutamine (containing 6.9 percent glutamine) replacing carbohydrates for five percent of the total calories. After two weeks, the mice were subdivided into two more groups, with one group receiving a sham (fake) dose and the other group receiving a real dose containing H. pylori. (This resulted in four separate mouse groups: an uninfected control group; an uninfected glutamine group; an infected control group; and an infected glutamine group.)

The mice were then followed for a 20-week period, during which time samples of blood and stomach tissue were removed. Blood was analyzed for antibodies to specific types of T-helper immune cells, which mediate the body’s response to H. pylori infection. Stomach tissues were examined for evidence of damage and cancer progression and also chemically analyzed for cytokines (inflammatory substances) which are produced by T-helper cells.

Their results showed that at six-weeks-post infection, the animals exhibited increased expression of three cytokines – interleukin 4, interleukin 10 and transforming growth factor-alpha mRNA. “These all play an important role in the stomach’s ability to protect against damaging effects resulting from other responses to H. pylori infection,” explains Hagen.

Of even greater significance, by week 20, the study results showed that, among the H. pylori-infected animals, the mice that were fed the L-glutamine diet exhibited lower levels of inflammation than did the mice that received the standard control diet.

“Because many of the stomach pathologies during H. pylori infection [including cancer progression] are linked to high levels of inflammation, this result provides us with preliminary evidence that glutamine supplementation may be an alternative therapy for reducing the severity of infection,” explains Hagen, adding that studies in human subjects will be the next step to determine the relevance of this finding in the clinical setting.

H. pylori bacteria infect more than half of the world’s population and were recently identified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization,” she adds. “Approximately 5.5 percent of the entire global cancer burden is attributed to H. pylori infection and, worldwide, over 900,000 new cases of gastric cancer develop each year. The possibility that an inexpensive, easy-to-use treatment could be used to modify the damaging effects of H. pylori infection warrants further study in clinical trials.”

 

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Study coauthors include MIT investigators James Fox, Nancy Taylor and Barry Rickman and BIDMC investigators Jin-Rong Zhou and George Blackburn.

This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

BIDMC is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks in the top four in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide. BIDMC is a clinical partner of the Joslin Diabetes Center and is a research partner of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit

A complex logic circuit made from bacterial genes

The circuit is designed to act as the controller in synthetic bacteria that monitor and modify their environment

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October 12, 2012
By Diana Lutz
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Just as electronic circuits are made from resistors, capacitors and transistors, biological circuits can be made from genes and regulatory proteins. Engineer Tae Seok Moon’s dream is to design modular “genetic parts” that can be used to build logic controllers inside microbes that will program them to make fuel, clean up pollutants, or kill infectious bacteria or cancerous cells.

By force of habit we tend to assume computers are made of silicon, but there is actually no necessary connection between the machine and the material. All that an engineer needs to do to make a computer is to find a way to build logic gates — the elementary building blocks of digital computers — in whatever material is handy.

So logic gates could theoretically be made of pipes of water, channels for billiard balls or even mazes for soldier crabs.

By comparison Tae Seok Moon’s ambition, which is to build logic gates out of genes, seems eminently practical. As a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Christopher Voigt, PhD, a synthetic biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he recently made the largest gene (or genetic) circuit yet reported.

Moon, PhD, now an assistant professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis is the lead author of an article describing the project in the Oct. 7 issue of Nature. Voigt is the senior author.

The tiny circuits constructed from these gene gates and others like them may one day be components of engineered cells that will monitor and respond to their environments.

The number of tasks they could undertake is limited only by evolution and human ingenuity. Janitor bacteria might clean up pollutants, chemical-engineer bacteria pump out biofuels and miniature infection-control bacteria might bustle about killing pathogens.

How to make an AND gate out of genes The basis of modern computers is the logic gate, a device that makes simple comparisons between the bits, the 1s and 0s, in which computers encode information. Each logic gate has multiple inputs and one output. The output of the gate depends on the inputs and the operation the gate performs.

An AND gate, for example, turns on only if all of its inputs are on. An OR gate turns on if any of its inputs are on.

Suggestively, genes are turned on or off when a transcription factor binds to a region of DNA adjacent to the gene called a promotor.

To make an AND gate out of genes, however, Moon had to find a gene whose activation is controlled by at least two molecules, not one. So only if both molecule 1 AND molecule 2 are present will the gene be turned on and translated into protein.

Such a genetic circuit had been identified in Salmonella typhimurium, the bacterium that causes food poisoning. In this circuit, the transcription factor can bind to the promotor of a gene only if a molecule called a chaperone is present. This meant the genetic circuit could form the basis of a two-input AND gate.

The circuit Moon eventually built consisted of four sensors for four different molecules that fed into three two-input AND gates. If all four molecules were present, all three AND gates turned on and the last one produced a reporter protein that fluoresced red, so that the operation of the circuit could be easily monitored.

In the future, Moon says, a synthetic bacterium with this circuit might sense four different cancer indicators and, in the presence of all four, release a tumor-killing factor.

Crosstalk and timing faults There are huge differences, of course, between the floppy molecules that embody biological logic gates and the diodes and transistors that embody electronic ones.

Engineers designing biological circuits worry a great deal about crosstalk, or interference. If a circuit is to work properly, the molecules that make up one gate cannot bind to molecules that are part of another gate.

This is much more of a problem in a biological circuit than in an electronic circuit because the interior of a cell is a kind of soup where molecules mingle freely.

To ensure that there wouldn’t be crosstalk among his AND gates, Moon mined parts for his gates from three different strains of bacteria: Shigella flexneri and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, as well as Salmonella.

Although the parts from the three different strains were already quite dissimilar, he made them even more so by subjecting them to error-prone copying cycles and screening the copies for ones that were even less prone to crosstalk (but still functional).

Another problem Moon faced is that biological circuits, unlike electronic ones, don’t have internal clocks that keep the bits moving through the logic gates in lockstep. If signals progress through layers of gates at different speeds, the output of the entire circuit may be wrong, a problem called a timing fault.

Experiments designed to detect such faults in the synthetic circuit showed that they didn’t occur, probably because the chaperones for one layer of logic gates degrades before the transcription factors for the next layer are generated, and this forces a kind of rhythm on the circuit.

Hijacking a bacterium’s controller “We’re not trying to build a computer out of biological logic gates,” Moon says. “You can’t build a computer this way. Instead we’re trying to make controllers that will allow us to access all the things biological organisms do in simple, programmable ways.”

“I see the cell as a system that consists of a sensor, a controller (the logic circuit), and an actuator,” he says. “This paper covers work on the controller, but eventually the controller’s output will drive an actuator, something that will do work on the cell’s surroundings. “

An synthetic bacterium designed by a friend of Moon’s at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore senses signaling molecules released by the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. When the molecules reach a high enough concentration, the bacterium generates a toxin and a protein that causes it to burst, releasing the toxin, and killing nearby P. aeruginosa.

“Silicon cannot do that,” Moon says.

Team builds most complex synthetic biology circuit yet

Mon, 10/08/2012 – 7:39am

Using genes as interchangeable parts, synthetic biologists design cellular circuits that can perform new functions, such as sensing environmental conditions. However, the complexity that can be achieved in such circuits has been limited by a critical bottleneck: the difficulty in assembling genetic components that don’t interfere with each other.

Unlike electronic circuits on a silicon chip, biological circuits inside a cell cannot be physically isolated from one another. “The cell is sort of a burrito. It has everything mixed together,” says Christopher Voigt, an associate professor of biological engineering at MIT.

Because all the cellular machinery for reading genes and synthesizing proteins is jumbled together, researchers have to be careful that proteins that control one part of their synthetic circuit don’t hinder other parts of the circuit.

Voigt and his students have now developed circuit components that don’t interfere with one another, allowing them to produce the most complex synthetic circuit ever built. The circuit, described in Nature, integrates four sensors for different molecules. Such circuits could be used in cells to precisely monitor their environments and respond appropriately.

“It’s incredibly complex, stitching together all these pieces,” says Voigt, who is co-director of the Synthetic Biology Center at MIT. Larger circuits would require computer programs that Voigt and his students are now developing, which should allow them to combine hundreds of circuits in new and useful ways.

Lead author of the paper is MIT postdoctoral researcher Tae Seok Moon. Other authors are MIT postdoctoral researcher Chunbo Lou and Alvin Tamsir, a graduate student at the University of California at San Francisco.

Expanding the possibilities Previously, Voigt has designed bacteria that can respond to light and capture photographic images, and others that can detect low oxygen levels and high cell density—both conditions often found in tumors. However, no matter the end result, most of his projects, and those of other synthetic biologists, use a small handful of known genetic parts. “We were just repackaging the same circuits over and over again,” Voigt says.

To expand the number of possible circuits, the researchers needed components that would not interfere with each other. They started out by studying the bacterium that causes salmonella, which has a cellular pathway that controls the injection of proteins into human cells. “It’s a very tightly regulated circuit, which is what makes it a good synthetic circuit,” Voigt says.

The pathway consists of three components: an activator, a promoter and a chaperone. A promoter is a region of DNA where proteins bind to initiate transcription of a gene. An activator is one such protein. Some activators also require a chaperone protein before they can bind to DNA to initiate transcription.

The researchers found 60 different versions of this pathway in other species of bacteria, and found that most of the proteins involved in each were different enough that they did not interfere with one another. However, there was a small amount of crosstalk between a few of the circuit components, so the researchers used an approach called directed evolution to reduce it. Directed evolution is a trial-and-error process that involves mutating a gene to create thousands of similar variants, then testing them for the desired trait. The best candidates are mutated and screened again, until the optimal gene is created.

Layered circuits To design synthetic circuits so they can be layered together, their inputs and outputs must mesh. With an electrical circuit, the inputs and outputs are always electricity. With these biological circuits, the inputs and outputs are proteins that control the next circuit (either activators or chaperones). These components could be useful for creating circuits that can sense a variety of environmental conditions. “If a cell needs to find the right microenvironment—glucose, pH, temperature, and osmolarity [solute concentration]—individually they’re not very specific, but getting all four of those things really narrows it down,” Voigt says.

The researchers are now applying this work to create a sensor that will allow yeast in an industrial fermenter to monitor their own environment and adjust their output accordingly.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Evolution’s new wrinkle

2008 study posted for filing

Contact: Kitta MacPherson
kittamac@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University

Proteins with cruise control provide new perspective

A team of Princeton University scientists has discovered that chains of proteins found in most living organisms act like adaptive machines, possessing the ability to control their own evolution.

The research, which appears to offer evidence of a hidden mechanism guiding the way biological organisms respond to the forces of natural selection, provides a new perspective on evolution, the scientists said.

The researchers — Raj Chakrabarti, Herschel Rabitz, Stacey Springs and George McLendon — made the discovery while carrying out experiments on proteins constituting the electron transport chain (ETC), a biochemical network essential for metabolism. A mathematical analysis of the experiments showed that the proteins themselves acted to correct any imbalance imposed on them through artificial mutations and restored the chain to working order.

“The discovery answers an age-old question that has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin: How can organisms be so exquisitely complex, if evolution is completely random, operating like a ‘blind watchmaker’?” said Chakrabarti, an associate research scholar in the Department of Chemistry at Princeton. “Our new theory extends Darwin’s model, demonstrating how organisms can subtly direct aspects of their own evolution to create order out of randomness.”

The work also confirms an idea first floated in an 1858 essay by Alfred Wallace, who along with Charles Darwin co-discovered the theory of evolution. Wallace had suspected that certain systems undergoing natural selection can adjust their evolutionary course in a manner “exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident.” In Wallace’s time, the steam engine operating with a centrifugal governor was one of the only examples of what is now referred to as feedback control. Examples abound, however, in modern technology, including cruise control in autos and thermostats in homes and offices.

The research, published in a recent edition of Physical Review Letters, provides corroborating data, Rabitz said, for Wallace’s idea. “What we have found is that certain kinds of biological structures exist that are able to steer the process of evolution toward improved fitness,” said Rabitz, the Charles Phelps Smyth ’16 Professor of Chemistry. “The data just jumps off the page and implies we all have this wonderful piece of machinery inside that’s responding optimally to evolutionary pressure.”

The authors sought to identify the underlying cause for this self-correcting behavior in the observed protein chains. Standard evolutionary theory offered no clues. Applying the concepts of control theory, a body of knowledge that deals with the behavior of dynamical systems, the researchers concluded that this self-correcting behavior could only be possible if, during the early stages of evolution, the proteins had developed a self-regulating mechanism, analogous to a car’s cruise control or a home’s thermostat, allowing them to fine-tune and control their subsequent evolution. The scientists are working on formulating a new general theory based on this finding they are calling “evolutionary control.”

The work is likely to provoke a considerable amount of thinking, according to Charles Smith, a historian of science at Western Kentucky University. “Systems thinking in evolutionary studies perhaps began with Alfred Wallace’s likening of the action of natural selection to the governor on a steam engine — that is, as a mechanism for removing the unfit and thereby keeping populations ‘up to snuff’ as environmental actors,” Smith said. “Wallace never really came to grips with the positive feedback part of the cycle, however, and it is instructive that through optimal control theory Chakrabarti et al. can now suggest a coupling of causalities at the molecular level that extends Wallace’s systems-oriented approach to this arena.”

Evolution, the central theory of modern biology, is regarded as a gradual change in the genetic makeup of a population over time. It is a continuing process of change, forced by what Wallace and Darwin, his more famous colleague, called “natural selection.” In this process, species evolve because of random mutations and selection by environmental stresses. Unlike Darwin, Wallace conjectured that species themselves may develop the capacity to respond optimally to evolutionary stresses. Until this work, evidence for the conjecture was lacking.

The experiments, conducted in Princeton’s Frick Laboratory, focused on a complex of proteins located in the mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell. A chain of proteins, forming a type of bucket brigade, ferries high-energy electrons across the mitrochondrial membrane. This metabolic process creates ATP, the energy currency of life.

Various researchers working over the past decade, including some at Princeton like George McClendon, now at Duke University, and Stacey Springs, now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fleshed out the workings of these proteins, finding that they were often turned on to the “maximum” position, operating at full tilt, or at the lowest possible energy level.

Chakrabarti and Rabitz analyzed these observations of the proteins’ behavior from a mathematical standpoint, concluding that it would be statistically impossible for this self-correcting behavior to be random, and demonstrating that the observed result is precisely that predicted by the equations of control theory. By operating only at extremes, referred to in control theory as “bang-bang extremization,” the proteins were exhibiting behavior consistent with a system managing itself optimally under evolution.

“In this paper, we present what is ostensibly the first quantitative experimental evidence, since Wallace’s original proposal, that nature employs evolutionary control strategies to maximize the fitness of biological networks,” Chakrabarti said. “Control theory offers a direct explanation for an otherwise perplexing observation and indicates that evolution is operating according to principles that every engineer knows.”

The scientists do not know how the cellular machinery guiding this process may have originated, but they emphatically said it does not buttress the case for intelligent design, a controversial notion that posits the existence of a creator responsible for complexity in nature.

Chakrabarti said that one of the aims of modern evolutionary theory is to identify principles of self-organization that can accelerate the generation of complex biological structures. “Such principles are fully consistent with the principles of natural selection. Biological change is always driven by random mutation and selection, but at certain pivotal junctures in evolutionary history, such random processes can create structures capable of steering subsequent evolution toward greater sophistication and complexity.”

The researchers are continuing their analysis, looking for parallel situations in other biological systems.

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The research was funded by the National Science Foundation

“Biohackers” or “DIY Biologists”, Teams have come together to create the world’s first “public BioBrick”

Amateur scientists build Lego-style synthetic BioBricks in public lab

By  Joel Winston 24 September 12

 

While some may believe that science is better left to scientists, hundreds of amateur biologists around the world have been setting-up  makeshift biology labs in their homes, garages and community centres. Some of these “biohackers” or “DIY biologists” have political motivations to open up science for all, a few attempt to address an absence of research in rare genetic diseases, some are curious and have a desire to learn, while others are taking part just for the sheer fun of it all.

Although “hacking” can carry negative connotations, it is clear that they are not the pipette-wielding revolutionaries they may sound like, and “hacking” is adopted more in the sense of playfully finding innovative and resourceful ways to build and modify. Groups have already developed novel lab equipment hacks including converting webcams into microscopes, building centrifuges out of drills and incubators out of picnic coolers. But despite such seemingly innocent hobbyist activities, biology as a science is also becoming more “hackable”, thanks to the field of synthetic biology. This raises a number of ethical and safety issues, especially if the public were able to access the technology.

Based on principles from engineering, synthetic biology makes use of “BioBricks”, genetic sequences which have been standardised like electronic components. These Lego-like BioBricks have various functions and can be plugged into each other with ease to create entirely new biological systems in microorganisms. These techniques can be used, for example, to transform bacteria into machines for sensing and degrading pollutants. And every year, university teams compete in an international competition, iGEM, based at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to develop new BioBricks to be added to their registry.

While the potential of the technology has already been demonstrated by professional scientists, what if biohackers or other members of the public were also able to access these tools? Now, for the first time, the University College London (UCL) iGEM team and the London Biohacking group are exploring these issues to encourage public debate.

The teams have come together to create the world’s first “public BioBrick”, built partly in a university lab, and partly in a public lab. Working with UCL over the last few months, the biohackers chose to create a BioBrick comprised of two genes — one for degrading mercury, a toxic water pollutant, and another for making antifreeze compounds. If this BioBrick was then inserted into a bacterial cell, not only would the cell take on a new function of degrading mercury in its environment, but the antifreeze would also help it survive in ice-cold waters.

“This was a really exciting experience,” says UCL iGEM team leader, Philipp Boeing. “It was amazing to find a group that was evidently so passionate about the subject they were studying, but who approached it in such a different way. I think this was a really novel discovery for most of us.”

To build the biobrick, the biohackers used their public lab at the London Hackspace to extract DNA from marine bacteria, which naturally have these two genes. Then using their thermal cycler (a machine for heating and cooling solutions of DNA), they replicated sufficient copies of the genes to ensure successful BioBrick manufacture.

In order to comply with UK regulations, the second stage of genetic modification was carried out in UCL’s lab. The biohackers took the two genes they had already isolated, and connected them to the standardised BioBrick backbone via a chemical process called ligation, to form the final “public BioBrick”.

“It was great to see what we do in a wider context, and to learn from professionals,” says one of the London biohackers. “Because most of the outside knowledge we use comes from books or the internet, it was good to get more face to face contact, and experience new lab techniques.”

Despite having created a new BioBrick that could be used in potential interventions for dealing with mercury pollution, due to iGEM Registry rules on non-professional institutions, the biohackers will not be allowed to access their own BioBrick in the future. The UCL team therefore hope this project will raise awareness of issues of public access to the iGEM Registry, and they are already planning further projects.

“I’ve been really inspired by our collaboration,” continues Philipp Boeing. “I think it’s definitely time to bring DIYbio in London to the next level. My favourite idea involves a community lab that’s certified for genetic modification. This should be a public place for molecular biology, and a space to carry out projects in a safe environment.”

It is this issue of safety that concerns many of the critics of biohacking, who fear improper lab protocols and the potential release of harmful genetically modified organisms. However, many biohackers argue that these concerns are significantly overstated. The organisation, DIYbio.org, maintains online biosafety resources for amateur biologists, and is also involved in an annual conference with the FBI’s bioterrorism unit to discuss safety and law enforcement. And many biohacking groups, for example, those in the UK, are already restricted in their activities due to licensing rules.

However, on safety issues, there is also a feeling among some biohackers that there may be no more of a reason to trust professional institutions to act responsibly with new technologies than members of the public.

“There are no biohackers I have heard of that could generate an environmental catastrophe or lead a bioterrorist attack,” says a London Biohacking member, “whereas there are many professional organisations, with actions dictated by political or financial interests, that have demonstrated themselves to be very successful at bringing such catastrophes”.

Some also argue that focusing on issues of biosafety detracts from realising the contributions to science that can be made by the public. So while biohacking may still be a long way off from anything that could be defined as a major scientific breakthrough, projects like the “public BioBrick” are already teasing us with the possibilities that can be achieved through biohacking, and greater public involvement in science in general.

The UCL and London Biohacking teams will be discussing and exhibiting their “public BioBrick” with a live genetic isolation and visualisation experiment at London’s Grant Museum of Zoology on Monday 24 September, 7 to 8.30pm

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-09/24/synthetic-biology

Scientists create germ cell-supporting embryonic Sertoli-like cells from skin cells

Contact: Nicole Rura rura@wi.mit.edu 617-258-6851 Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (September 6, 2012) – Using a stepwise trans-differentiation process, Whitehead Institute researchers have turned skin cells into embryonic Sertoli-like cells.

The main role of mature Sertoli cells is to provide support and nutrition to the developing sperm cells. Furthermore, Sertoli cells have been demonstrated to possess trophic properties, which have been utilized for the protection of non-testicular cellular grafts in transplantations. However, mature Sertoli cells are mitotically inactive, and the primary immature Sertoli cells during prolonged cultures degenerate in the petri dish. Therefore, finding an alternative source of these cells independent of the donor testis cells is of paramount interest both for basic research and clinical applications.

“The idea is if you could make Sertoli cells from a skin cell, they’d be accessible for supporting the spermatogenesis process when conducting in vitro fertilization assays or protecting other cell types such as neurons when co-transplanted in vivo,” says Whitehead Institute Founding Member Rudolf Jaenisch. “Otherwise, you could get proliferating cells only from fetal testis.”

Jaenisch lab researchers have seemingly overcome the supply and lifespan challenges through trans-differentiation, the process of reprogramming a cell directly from one mature cell type to another without first taking the cell in question all the way back to the embryonic stem-cell stage. Unlike other reprogramming methods that produce induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), trans-differentiation does not rely on the use of genes that can cause cancer.

As reported in Cell Stem Cell‘s September issue, scientists trans-differentiated mouse skin cells into embryonic Sertoli-like cells by breaking the process into two main steps, mimicking Sertoli cells’ development in the testis. The first step in this progression transformed the skin fibroblasts from their mesenchymal state to a sheet-like epithelial state. In the second step the cells acquired the capability to attract each other to form aggregates as seen in vivo between embryonic Sertoli cells and germ cells.

Next the scientists devised a cocktail of five transcription factors that activate the epithelial cells’ embryonic Sertoli cell genetic program. The resulting cells exhibited many of the characteristics of embryonic Sertoli cells, including aggregating, forming tubular structures similar to the seminiferous tubules found in the testis, and secreting the typical Sertoli cell factors. When injected into a mouse fetal testis, the trans-differentiated cells migrated to the proper place and integrated into the endogenous tubules. Overall, the injected cells behaved like endogenous embryonic Sertoli cells, despite expressing a few genes differently.

“The injected trans-differentiated cells were closely interacting with the native germ cells, which shows that they definitely do not have any bad effect on the germ cells,” says Yossi Buganim, a postdoctoral researcher in the Jaenisch lab and first author of the Cell Stem Cell paper. “Instead, they enable those germ cells to survive.”

In fact, when the embryonic Sertoli-like cells were used to sustain other cells in a Petri dish, Buganim noted that the cells supported by the trans-differentiated cells thrived, living longer than cells sustained by actual native Sertoli cells.

Encouraged by these results in vitro, Buganim says he would like to investigate whether the embryonic Sertoli-like cells retain this enhanced supportive capacity after transplantation into the brain, where the cells could sustain ailing neurons. If so, they could have applications in the development of neuron-based therapies for neurodegenerative disorders such as ALS and Parkinson’s disease.

###

 

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants R37-CA084198 and RO1-HD045022, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Written by Nicole Giese Rura

Rudolf Jaenisch’s primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where his laboratory is located and all his research is conducted. He is also a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Full Citation:

“Direct reprogramming of fibroblasts into embryonic Sertoli-like cells by defined factors”

Yosef Buganim (1), Elena Itskovich (1), Yueh-Chiang Hu (1,3), Albert W. Cheng (1,2), Kibibi Ganz (1), Sovan Sarkar (1), Dongdong Fu (1), Grant Welstead (1), David C. Page (1,2,3), and Rudolf Jaenisch (1,2).

Cell Stem Cell, September 7, 2012 print issue.

1. Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, 9 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA 2. Department of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 31 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA 3. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 4000 Jones Bridge Road, Chevy Chase, MD 20815, USA

Neuroscientists successfully control the dreams of rats. Could humans be next?

 

Researchers working at MIT have successfully manipulated the content of a rat’s dream by replaying an audio cue that was associated with the previous day’s events, namely running through a maze (what else). The breakthrough furthers our understanding of how memory gets consolidated during sleep — but it also holds potential for the prospect of “dream engineering.”

Working at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, neuroscientist Matt Wilson was able to accomplish this feat by exploiting the way the brain’s hippocampus encodes self-experienced events into memory. Scientists know that our hippocampus is busy at work replaying a number of the day’s events while we sleep — a process that’s crucial for memory consolidation. But what they did not know was whether or not these “replays” could be influenced by environmental cues.

To see if this could be done, Wilson and his team trained a group of rats to run through a maze using two distinct audio cues. The rats quickly learned that the tones were helpful; one sound indicated that food could be found by going left, while the other sound indicated that a food reward awaited them on the right. And while the rats were doing this, the neuroscientists were recording their neural activity.

Later, while the rats were sleeping, the researchers once again recorded the neural activity of their brains. Using correlative analysis, Wilson confirmed that the rats were dreaming of their maze navigating exploits from the day before.

But when the researchers played the audio cues from the experiment, they noticed a very interesting thing: the rats would dream about the section of the maze previously associated with the audio cue. The experiment demonstrated that the content of a rat’s dream can be biased by re-activating certain memories while they’re asleep.

Looking ahead, the researchers believe that this simple example of dream engineering could open up the possibility of more extensive control of memory processing during sleep — and even the notion that selected memories could be either enhanced, blocked, or modified. Wilson is also aiming to develop new approaches to learning and behavioral therapy through similar kinds of cognitive manipulation.

Check out the entire study at Nature Neuroscience

http://io9.com/5940068/neuroscientists-successfully-control-the-dreams-of-rats-could-humans-be-next

Neuroengineers silence brain cells with multiple colors of light

For Immediate Release:January 6, 2010 * Reposted for Filing

contact: Jen Hirsch, MIT News Office email: newsoffice@mit.edu phone: 617-253-2700
New tools show potential for treating brain disorders

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Neuroscientists at MIT have developed a powerful new class of tools to reversibly shut down brain activity using different colors of light. When targeted to specific neurons, these tools could potentially lead to new treatments for the abnormal brain activity associated with disorders such as chronic pain, epilepsy, brain injury, and Parkinson’s disease.
The tools work on the principle that such disorders might be best treated by silencing, rather than stimulating, brain activity. These “super silencers” exert exquisite control over the timing of the shutdown of overactive neural circuits — an effect that’s impossible with existing drugs or other conventional therapies. “Silencing different sets of neurons with different colors of light allows us to understand how they work together to implement brain functions,” explains Ed Boyden, senior author of the study, to be published in the Jan. 7 issue of Nature. “Using these new tools, we can look at two neural pathways and study how they compute together. These tools will help us understand how to control neural circuits, leading to new understandings and treatments for brain disorders — some of the biggest unmet medical needs in the world.” Boyden is the Benesse Career Development Professor in the MIT Media Lab and an associate member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.
Boyden’s super silencers are developed from two genes found in different natural organisms such as bacteria and fungi. These genes, called Arch and Mac, encode for light-activated proteins that help the organisms make energy. When neurons are engineered to express Arch and Mac, researchers can inhibit their activity by shining light on them. Light activates the proteins, which lowers the voltage in the neurons and safely and effectively prevents them from firing. In this way, light can bathe the entire brain and selectively affect only those neurons sensitized to specific colors of light. Neurons engineered to express Arch are specifically silenced by yellow light, while those expressing Mac are silenced by blue light.
“In this way the brain can be programmed with different colors of light to identify and possibly correct the corrupted neural computations that lead to disease,” explains co-author Brian Chow, postdoctoral associate in Boyden’s lab.


In 2005, Boyden, in collaboration with investigators at Stanford University and the Max Planck Institute, introduced the first such “optogenetic” technique, so called because it combines the use of optics with gene delivery. The 2005 tool, now widely used, involves a light-activated ion channel, ChR2, which allows light to selectively turn on neurons in the brain.
Two years later, Boyden demonstrated that halorhodopsin, another light-sensitive protein, could inhibit the activity of neurons when illuminated. “But the genomic diversity of the world suggested that more powerful tools were out there waiting to be discovered,” Boyden says. His group accordingly screened a diverse set of microbial light-sensitive proteins, and found the new multicolor silencers. The newly discovered tools are much better than the old. Arch-expressing neurons were switched off with greater precision and recovered faster than halorhodopsin-expressing neurons, allowing researchers to manipulate different neurons with different colors of light.
“Multicolor silencing dramatically increases the complexity with which you can study neural circuits,” says co-author Xue Han, postdoctoral researcher in Boyden’s lab. “We will use these tools to parse out the neural mechanisms of cognition.”
How they did it: MIT researchers loaded the Arch and Mac genes into viruses that inserted their genetic cargo into mouse neurons. Optical fibers attached to lasers flashed light onto the neurons, and electrodes measured the resulting neural activity.
Next steps: Boyden’s team recently demonstrated the efficacy of ChR2 in monkeys with no apparent side effects. Determining whether Arch and Mac are safe and effective in monkeys will be a critical next step toward the potential use of these optical silencing tools in humans. Boyden plans to use these super silencers to examine the neural circuits of cognition and emotion and to find targets in the brain that, when shut down, could relieve pain and treat epilepsy. His group continues to mine the natural world for new and even more powerful tools to manipulate brain cell activity – tools that, he hopes, will empower scientists to explore neural circuits in ways never before possible.
Source: “High-Performance Genetically-Targetable Optical Neural Silencing by Light-Driven Proton Pumps,” Chow BY, Han X, Dobry AS, Qian X, Chuong AS, Li M, Henninger MA, Belfort GM, Lin Y, Monahan PE, Boyden ES. Nature Jan. 7 2010.
Funding: NIH, NSF, McGovern Institute Neurotechnology (MINT) Program at MIT, Department of Defense, NARSAD, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Jerry and Marge Burnett, Society for Neuroscience, MIT Media Lab, Benesse Foundation, Wallace H. Coulter Foundation, and the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation

* Reposted for Filing

Merging tissue and electronics

For Immediate Release:August 27, 2012

contact: Sarah McDonnell, MIT News Office email: s_mcd@mit.edu phone: 617-253-8923

      New tissue scaffold could be used for drug development and implantable therapeutic devices.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — To control the three-dimensional shape of engineered tissue, researchers grow cells on tiny, sponge-like scaffolds. These devices can be implanted into patients or used in the lab to study tissue responses to potential drugs.
A team of researchers from MIT, Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital has now added a new element to tissue scaffolds: electronic sensors. These sensors, made of silicon nanowires, could be used to monitor electrical activity in the tissue surrounding the scaffold, control drug release or screen drug candidates for their effects on the beating of heart tissue.
The research, published online Aug. 26 in Nature Materials, could also pave the way for development of tissue-engineered hearts, says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a senior author of the paper.
“We are very excited about this study,” Langer says. “It brings us one step closer to someday creating a tissue-engineered heart, and it shows how novel nanomaterials can play a role in this field.”
Lead authors of the paper are Bozhi Tian, a former postdoc at MIT and Children’s Hospital; Jia Liu, a Harvard graduate student; and Tal Dvir, a former MIT postdoc. Other senior authors are Daniel Kohane, director of the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at Children’s Hospital, and Charles Lieber, a Harvard professor of chemistry.
A 3-D system
Until now, the only cellular platforms that incorporated electronic sensors consisted of flat layers of cells grown on planar metal electrodes or transistors. Those two-dimensional systems do not accurately replicate natural tissue, so the research team set out to design a 3-D scaffold that could monitor electrical activity, allowing them to see how cells inside the structure would respond to specific drugs.

The researchers built their new scaffold out of epoxy, a nontoxic material that can take on a porous, 3-D structure. Silicon nanowires embedded in the scaffold carry electrical signals to and from cells grown within the structure.
“The scaffold is not just a mechanical support for cells, it contains multiple sensors. We seed cells into the scaffold and eventually it becomes a 3-D engineered tissue,” Tian says.
The team chose silicon nanowires for electronic sensors because they are small, stable, can be safely implanted into living tissue and are more electrically sensitive than metal electrodes. The nanowires, which range in diameter from 30 to 80 nanometers (about 1,000 times smaller than a human hair), can detect voltages less than one-thousandth of a watt, which is the level of electricity that might be seen in a cell.
Monitoring cell behavior
In the Nature Materials study, the researchers used their scaffolds to grow cardiac, neural and muscle tissue. Using the engineered cardiac tissue, the researchers were able to monitor cells’ response to noradrenalin, a stimulant that typically increases heart rate.
Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, says the work could help address a great need to engineer cells that respond to electrical stimuli, which may advance the treatment of cardiac and neurological disease.
“This is a beautiful example of how nanoelectronics can be combined with tissue engineering to monitor the behavior of cells,” says Vunjak-Novakovic, who was not part of the research team.
The team also grew blood vessels with embedded electronic sensors and showed that they could be used to measure pH changes within and outside the vessels. Such implantable devices could allow doctors to monitor inflammation or other biochemical events in patients who receive the implants. Ultimately, the researchers would like to engineer tissues that can not only sense an electrical or chemical event, but also respond to it appropriately — for example, by releasing a drug.
“It could be a closed feedback loop, much as our autonomic nervous system is,” Kohane says. “The nervous system senses changes in some part of the body and sends a message to the central nervous system, which then sends a message back to take corrective action.”
The team is now further studying the mechanical properties of the scaffolds and making plans to test them in animals.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the McKnight Foundation and Boston Children’s Hospital.

Written by: Anne Trafton, MIT News Office