Sunday, April 30, 2006

Regenerating Hearing Cells

Researchers learn more about ways to regenerate the ear's hearing cells.

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have made important progress in their ongoing effort to regenerate the inner ear's hair cells, which convert sound vibrations to nerve impulses. In an upcoming issue of Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences they report successfully creating a mouse model that allows them to build on earlier findings about the effect of deactivating a protein that controls the growth and division of hair cells.


Named for the hair-like projections on their surfaces, hair cells form a ribbon of vibration sensors along the length of the cochlea - the organ of the inner ear that senses sound - where they convert sonic vibrations to electrical signals that are carried to the brain. The cells are very sensitive to damage from excessive noise, infections and toxins. Once damaged, hair cells do not naturally regenerate in mammals, and their death accounts for most types of acquired hearing loss.


"We've shown that vestibular hair cell regeneration may be achieved and may be less of an obstacle than auditory cell regeneration," Chen says. "Now we need to find ways to create a similar system in the auditory cells, and this new model will help us better understand the mechanisms behind functional hair cell regeneration. ..."

Summary: we're drawing closer to a cure for deafness.

This in addition to all other diseases an organic being might contract, thanks to the upcoming biotechnology revolution, ofcourse.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Artificial Insect Eyes Developed

'Bug-eyed' lens takes a broader view.

An artificial insect "eye" could give surveillance cameras and surgical instruments the ability to see almost everything around them.

The ultra-wide angle compound lens, which is about the size of an insect's eye, was developed by US researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The 'back end' of the camera is yet to be produced.

The eyes of insects such as bees and dragonflies are made up of tens of thousands of tiny components called ommatidia. These all point in different directions to give the insect a very wide field of vision.

Inspired by this, Luke Lee and colleagues developed an artificial compound eye consisting of a moulded polymer resin dome filled with thousands of light-guiding channels, called waveguides, each topped with its own miniature lens.

The artificial eye could be used to create surveillance cameras, cellphone cameras, and surgical endoscopes with a much wider field of vision, the researchers say. The whole eye is 2.5 millimetres in diameter. Each artificial ommatidia consists of a lens attached to a polymer waveguide that directs light towards the centre of the eye.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ethanol Engine To Rival Hybrid Efficiency

Better than Hybrids:

Consumers hoping to cut gasoline spending, with average gas prices nearing $3 a gallon, could opt for hybrids. But even with gas prices high, the added cost of hybrid cars can cancel money saved at the pump, suggesting the need for lower-cost alternatives.

A new type of ethanol-boosted, turbocharged gasoline engine could be the answer. The engine would be almost as efficient as gas-electric hybrids, but cost much less, according to its MIT inventors -- Leslie Bromberg and Daniel Cohn, plasma science and fusion center researchers, and John Heywood, professor of mechanical engineering.

The new engine would improve efficiency in two ways. The first is to decrease the size of the engine, which reduces friction, thus saving fuel at light engine loads, such as during city driving. When more power is needed, a turbocharger kicks in. It uses exhaust flow to compress air, making it possible to combust more air and fuel in a smaller space.

The second approach is to engineer the engine to have a higher compression ratio -- the ratio of the volume of air and fuel before and after it is compressed in an engine. A higher compression ratio "makes the engine more efficient, because you expand the burned gases more and extract more energy out of them," Heywood says.

With Bill Gates investing a fortune in ethanol, you'd almost think ethanol was going to play an important part in our technological future.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Building A Bionic Arm

University of Utah to help build bionic arm:

University of Utah researchers will receive up to $10.3 million to help develop a new prosthetic arm that would work, feel and look like a real arm. The Utah work is a key part of a U.S. Department of Defense contract worth up to $55 million to develop the new device for soldiers and potentially others whose arms were amputated.

"Imagine an artificial arm that moves naturally in response to your thoughts, that allows you to feel both the outside world and your own movements, and that is as strong and graceful as an intact, biological limb," says bioengineer Greg Clark, the University of Utah's principal investigator on the project. "That's what our researchers, teaming with others around the world, are setting out to achieve. … People's arms and hands are not only tools, but also an important means by which they explore the world and interact with others. We hope to restore that capability."

The research is part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA said in a news release that it wants to "revolutionize prosthetic devices for amputee soldiers. Over the next four years, researchers will create a mechanical arm that has the properties of a biological limb."

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fighting Robots

Just spotted this movie clip of fighting robots.

It's amazing what robots can do these days.

No wonder some people ponder the implications of a Robotic Nation.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Friday, April 21, 2006

Robot Soldiers On Future Battlefields

Cyber-soldiers may save lives

Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, the Pentagon has counted 2,376 fatalities among U.S. troops, with nearly one-third, or 767 deaths, caused by booby traps known as IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

Now, recent advances in robotics offer a way to use machines to assume some of the deadliest jobs on the battlefield.


The military's demand for such technology has been practically insatiable. Everett said that in 2004, U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were operating a total of 163 robots known as UGVs, or unmanned ground vehicles. By the end of this year, that number is expected to reach 4,000, according to Pentagon estimates.


Recent advances in autonomous technology have been so rapid that Everett predicts U.S. soldiers eventually will work with robots in the same way a hunter works with a bird dog.

“Troops of the future are going to be equipped with a lot of electronics imbedded in their uniforms and their weapons,” he said. Ideally, such technology will allow a robot to follow a soldier's commands, such as, “Go through the door in front of you.”

To do that, however, a robot needs to be smart enough to know what a door is and how to find it, Everett says. A robot that can navigate on its own, or perhaps follow a soldier on patrol, represents a breakthrough in technology.

In recent months, Everett's team has come close to accomplishing that with an all-terrain robotic vehicle, or ATRV, about the size of a lawn mower. In one field demonstration, the ATRV entered a World War II-era bunker in Point Loma, explored the interior without human guidance and generated a rough map that depicts the interior rooms and hallways.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Are You Ready For The Future?

Are You Ready For The Future?

Now imagine what life might be like in future. Go ahead. Close your eyes.

You'll be healthier than ever and you'll potentially live much longer, thanks to individualized medicine made possible by genetic testing and a growing understanding of human biology.

Diabetics will undergo stem cell therapy to replace the islet cells in their pancreas. Or perhaps they'll just get a whole new pancreas, grown from their own stem cells.

People will recover from traumatic accidents, through either biological or technical means. Artificial limbs will provide tactile sensory feedback directly to the nervous system, and will be made, partially or completely, from organic materials.

Nanotechnology will provide tiny machines that will revolutionize industry and manufacturing, and will also be deep inside our bodies, repairing damage we may never realize exist.

We'll be living in a world filled with machines, which will be far smarter than ever before. Perhaps they'll be smarter than we are. Robots and smart machines will be everywhere, doing all manner of work, from basic manual labor to designing the next generation of technology. Some of those machines will be moving around, looking very much like the beings that created them. Some of them will be living in your home, perhaps helping to take care of your children, or your elderly parents.

Alternative energy sources will help power an energy hungry world. Genetic designers may be creating artificial life forms that could solve energy needs and cleaning up environmental pollution.

In all fairness and balance, the source article also goes into some possible concerns for the future.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

The Future Of The Internet

The Future Of The Internet.

If Mr. Cerf and about two dozen other pundits Red Herring interviewed about the future of the Internet are right, in 10 years’ time the barriers between our bodies and the Internet will blur as will those between the real world and virtual reality.

Automakers, for instance, might conceivably post their parts catalogs in the virtual world of Second Life, a pixilated 3D online blend of MySpace, eBay, and renaissance fair crossed with a Star Trek convention. Second Life participants—who own the rights to whatever intellectual property they create online—will make money both by using the catalog to design their own cars in cyberspace and by selling their online designs back to the manufacturers, says Danish economist and tech entrepreneur Nikolaj Nyholm.

Today’s devices will disappear. Electronics will instead be embedded in our environment, woven into our clothing, and written directly to our retinas from eyeglasses and contact lenses, predicts inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist Ray Kurzweil. “Devices will no longer be spokes on the Internet—they will be the nodes themselves,” he says.


Everything from the family fridge to the office coffee pot—as well as heating, cooling, and security systems—will be managed through the Internet, possibly using souped-up mobile phones doubling as universal remote controls, says Google’s Mr. Cerf. By 2016, he predicts the online population of 1 billion will treble, and a huge portion will be mobile. And by then, the Internet will become so pervasive that connecting to it will no longer be a conscious act.

Bandwidth access of 100 megabits per second or more will become the norm. “It is probably a safe bet that everyone will be able to have a full-motion, high-definition real-time link to anyone,” says Bram Cohen, creator of the popular peer-to-peer program BitTorrent. Once that happens, “the concept of who is online and who is offline will melt away,” says Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo’s director of media and desktop search.


So just how big will Internet business be? “My whole thesis is that information technologies are growing exponentially. Things that we can measure like price performance, capacity, and bandwidth are doubling every year so that’s actually a factor of a thousand in 10 years,” says Mr. Kurzweil. “So if the Internet is already very influential—if there is already a trillion dollars of e-commerce, already a very democratizing technology, then multiplying its size and scope by a factor of a thousand will be a very significant change.”

The article goes on to provide yet more keen insights in the what the web will look like, how it will transform our lives once again, developments to look out for and issues that may arise (such as Big Brother).

Also see:

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Rapture For The Rest Of Us

TCSDaily has an article on the Singularity, and various person's opinions on it.

From the article:

I've written before about the so-called "Singularity." In a famous essay, Vernor Vinge described the concept this way:

When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities -- on a still-shorter time scale. The best analogy that I see is with the evolutionary past: Animals can adapt to problems and make inventions, but often no faster than natural selection can do its work -- the world acts as its own simulator in the case of natural selection. We humans have the ability to internalize the world and conduct "what if's" in our heads; we can solve many problems thousands of times faster than natural selection. Now, by creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher speeds, we are entering a regime as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals.

From the human point of view this change will be a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control. Developments that before were thought might only happen in "a million years" (if ever) will likely happen in the next century. (In [5], Greg Bear paints a picture of the major changes happening in a matter of hours.)

I think it's fair to call this event a singularity ("the Singularity" for the purposes of this paper). It is a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace.

Still don't understand what the Singularity is? Read my Singularity FAQ.

As a heavy progressive person, I don't care much for conservative people calling the Singularity a 'techno religion', so I won't be copypasting any of that here.

What I will be copypasting here, is this extremely funny yet oh so insightful quote:

In fact, rather than serving as a dismissal of the Singularity, it seems to me that the Singularity-as-religion argument cuts the other way. How do we know that people want the kinds of things that advanced technology is supposed to offer? Because they've been trying to get them through non-technological means for all of recorded history. And as history demonstrates, they've been willing to try awfully hard, and in a wide variety of ingenious ways: Jihadists are strapping on suicide bombs today, in the hope of attaining the kind of environment that virtual reality will deliver in 20 years.

Having trouble imagening how we might be having sex with 72 virgins in virtual reality, just 20 years from now?

Then read The Future Of Virtual Environments.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Technological Human Enhancement Coming Close

In the 70s he was a TV fantasy. Now the bionic man is real - and he even plays sax.

The 1970s gave us the six-million-dollar man. Thirty years and quite a bit of inflation later we have the six-billion-dollar human: not a physical cyborg as such, instead an umbrella term for the latest developments in the growing field of technology for human enhancement.


Daniel Palanker, a physicist at Stanford University in California, had the idea to bypass the dead rods and cones and to stimulate the cells of the inner retina with electrical signals directly. Previous research had shown this method allowed perception of light, and Dr Palanker built a way to exploit it.

His bionic eye system is made up of a 3mm chip implanted into the retina and a pair of virtual-reality-style goggles containing a video camera. The goggles convert the video pictures into an infrared image. "The image is projected on to the retina and the retinal implant has photosensitive pixels that convert infrared light into pulses of electrical current, stimulating the cells in the retina," said Dr Palanker.

So far, he has only fitted rats and rabbits with the bionic eye. Human trials will begin in a couple of years and, when they do, Dr Palanker reckons the system will give people 20/80 vision - normal is 20/20, you need 20/40 for a driving licence and 20/400 is the legal definition of blindness - allowing people to read large fonts and recognise faces.


No cyborg could be complete without superhuman strength and Homayoon Kazerooni of the University of California, Berkeley, can help. "The technology we developed is a robotic device a person would wear and this way, the device would carry a major load and the person would not feel any load," he said.

The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (Bleex) fits along the legs and has a frame at the wearer's back to fit a backpack. "The maximum load is 200lb [90kg] and the person will not feel anything at all. We thought the combination of human interaction, human decision-making process with machine power is a better solution for a lot of robotic tasks."


Prosthetics are another hot area of research. Modern artificial hands, for example, give wearers a better quality of life but they have little of the functionality of the real hands they replace. "The current technology means that people can open and close an appendage, a hook, that has a cosmetic cover but nothing more. Everybody in the field knows we have to improve upon this," said William Craelius of Rutgers University in New Jersey.

His artificial hand system, Dextra, is leagues ahead. By recording the movement of muscles in the remaining part of the arm as a person thinks about moving their hand, Dextra can control up to three fingers. Different patterns of muscle movement correspond to different movements and, after a few minutes of calibration, the robotic hand is ready for action. "It enables the ability to type slowly or to play a piano piece. One person wanted to play the saxophone and, with three fingers, you can actually get quite musical with it," said Dr Craelius.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Soldiers Replaced With Armed Robots

The new breed of soldier: Robots with guns.

Spurred by the risks from roadside bombs and terrorist ambushes, the military is aggressively seeking to replace troops with battlefield robots, including new versions armed with machine guns.

"There was a time just a few years ago when we almost had to beg people to try an unmanned ground vehicle," says Marine Col. Terry Griffin, manager of the Robotic Systems Joint Project Office in Huntsville, Ala. "We don't have to beg anymore."

Although the Pentagon initially focused on aircraft, such as the Predator drone, now new ground- and sea-based robots are being developed and tested, military records show. For example:
  • The Mobile Detection Assessment Response System, an unmanned vehicle intended to patrol around domestic bases. The Army plans to start using it next year.
  • Self-driving convoy trucks. Some variants follow preplanned routes or the vehicle in front. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has held a competition among advanced, satellite-guided versions that plan their own routes and maneuver around roadblocks. The Army is testing driverless versions of its Stryker armored personnel carrier.
  • Robots that can enter a building, look for an enemy and send back a map of the interior are being tested for the Marine Corps.

Eventually, wars won't be fought by humans anymore. Think about it... human soldiers are a major drag when it comes to fighting wars efficiently. Next to being error prone, they require:
  • Long and expensive training.
  • Food and drink supplies.
  • Lots of time to rest.
  • Lots of time and costly expenses to heal from injuries.

Whereas robots:
  • Can share software instantly, meaning that if one robot knows how to fight war, all the others know how to fight war. Making a thousand copies is no harder than making one copy.
  • Does not require food and drink supplies. By the time robots will be fighting our wars for us, they'll probably be energy self sufficient using highly advanced solar panels.
  • Does not need rest.
  • Can be mass produced, easily repaired once damaged and easily replaced once destroyed.

War will basically turn into a game of chess, with humans as the players and robots as the pieces. Ofcourse, whoever has the best technology wins.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Emotion Recognizing Software

Face Reader Bridges Autism Gap.

You are a mind reader, whether you know it or not. You can tell just by looking at a human face whether the person is concentrating, confused, interested or in agreement with you.

But people afflicted by autism lack this ability to ascertain emotional status -- it's one of the signature characteristics of the disease. Help could be on the way for autistic individuals, though: A novel computer-vision system developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could do the mind reading for those who can't.


The system's software goes beyond tracking simple emotions like sadness and anger to estimate complex mental states like agreeing, disagreeing, thinking, confused, concentrating and interested. The goal is to put this mental state inference engine on a wearable platform and use it to augment or enhance social interactions, said Rana el Kaliouby, a postdoctoral researcher at the Media Lab.

"This is only possible now because of the progress made in affective computing, real-time machine perception and wearable technologies," she said.

Looks like technology could help us out in our daily social interactions, reducing the amount of social mishaps as a result of miscommunication.

Also, wouldn't it be wonderful if our computers could read our emotions in order to respond to our frustrations?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

When Algorithms Take The Weel

When Algorithms Take The Weel.

Algorithmically controlled sensors, suspension adjustment and other electronic functions are not what you are supposed to notice when you drive Jaguar's new XK convertible and coupe. The car's highly automated driving control, Jaguar engineers say, is supposed to transparently keep you out of trouble -- while you embark upon a high-powered sport car driving experience.


During an extreme test of the XK's handling capabilities, the car only fishtailed back and forth once after I jerked the steering wheel on a wet road around a 90 degree turn while driving at about 60 mph. The car's back wheels swung first left then right before the XK's sensors registered a difference in torque between the rear tires and, transparent to me, righted the fishtailing effect by a combination of de-acceleration, tire rotation and vehicle weight distribution control. More often than not, the sensation of flatness, as if there were a vertical force pinning the car to the road, was also felt then and when taking less extreme curves at high speeds.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Nanocar Provided With Motor

Rice Scientists Attach Motor to Single-molecule Car.

In follow-on work to last year's groundbreaking invention of the world's first single-molecule car, chemists at Rice University have produced the first motorized version of their tiny nanocar.


The motorized model of the nanocar is powered by light. Its rotating motor, a molecular framework that was developed by Ben L. Feringa at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, was modified by Tour¹s group so that it would attach in-line with the nanocar¹s chassis. When light strikes the motor, it rotates in one direction, pushing the car along like a paddlewheel.


The nanocar consists of a rigid chassis and four alkyne axles that spin freely and swivel independently of one another. The four buckyball wheels that were used in the original version of the nanocar drained energy from the motor and were replaced with spherical molecules of carbon, hydrogen and boron called p-carborane.


The nanocars, which measure just 3-by-4 nanometers, are about the same width as a strand of DNA, but much shorter than DNA. About 20,000 of these nanocars could be parked, side-by-side, across the diameter of human hair.

They are the first nanoscale vehicles with an internal motor.

Very useful for transferring molecular payloads.

All in all, a great milestone towards full blown, advanced nanotechnology.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Lab-on-a-chip To Simplify Blood Tests

Lab-on-a-chip To Simplify Blood Tests.

A cell phone-sized blood-count machine requiring less blood than a mosquito bite will make blood tests easier for many patients, from neonatal units to astronauts in space.


“Analysis of blood composition is how doctors test for infections and deficiencies in the immune system, monitor health and make medical diagnoses,” said Dr. Yu-Chong Tai, investigator on NSBRI’s Technology Development Team. “Looking ahead to future missions to the moon and Mars, astronauts will need to perform simple blood tests to get up-to-the-minute information on their health.”

Presently, the slow process of assessing blood composition requires bulky counting machines, trained technicians and a large amount of blood (approximately two syringes or ten milliliters), so analysis cannot be done in space. To assess their physiology, astronauts draw blood samples in orbit for analysis after their return. “In addition to space medicine, the technology could be used in neonatal care since large blood draws are not possible with infants,” Tai added.

They call it lab-on-a-chip because the little device does a task that used to require a whole laboratory. Science is effectively compressing a whole lot of functionality in a very small volume.

This is only the start of personal health monitoring, something you'll be hearing a lot of in the future. Other examples of personal health monitoring are smart toilets that analyze your droppings and nanotech t-shirts that monitor your heart rate and perhaps even analyze your sweat.

A decade from now, we'll all look back to the the primitive times of the early 21st century, when we didn't even know what was going on inside our own bodies.

How barbaric was that?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Printing Hearts And Arteries

Print Me A Heart And A Set Of Arteries.

Sitting in a culture dish, a layer of chicken heart cells beats in synchrony. But this muscle layer was not sliced from an intact heart, nor even grown laboriously in the lab. Instead, it was "printed", using a technology that could be the future of tissue engineering.

Gabor Forgacs, a biophysicist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, described his "bioprinting" technique last week at the Experimental Biology 2006 meeting in San Francisco. It relies on droplets of "bioink", clumps of cells a few hundred micrometres in diameter, which Forgacs has found behave just like a liquid.

This means that droplets placed next to one another will flow together and fuse, forming layers, rings or other shapes, depending on how they were deposited. To print 3D structures, Forgacs and his colleagues alternate layers of supporting gel, dubbed "biopaper", with the bioink droplets. To build tubes that could serve as blood vessels, for instance, they lay down successive rings containing muscle and endothelial cells, which line our arteries and veins. "We can print any desired structure, in principle," Forgacs told the meeting.

With advances like these and stem cell research, we can be sure to have plenty of spare organs in the future. I wonder which technique will end up being 'the one' that supplies us with our spare parts.

In the meantime, take care of your brain. It's the only part of you that can't be replaced.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Nanoscience Rising Up To Meet Energy Challenge

Nanoscience Rising Up To Meet Energy Challenge.

Tiny materials may bring about large-scale advances in a future hydrogen economy, Institute Professor Mildred S. Dresselhaus told audiences Wednesday, April 5, at MIT and at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.


While hydrogen has advantages, it's "not a fuel. You can't mine it. We would have to make nine million tons a year, and eventually, 20 times more than that," Dresselhaus said. Because hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels, scientists would have to find a way to produce it from sustainable sources such as rainfall and ocean water.

"We need to develop the technology to convert hydrogen and water to free hydrogen, but we don't know how to do it cheaply and at a large scale," she said.

To make hydrogen that works as well as gasoline as an automotive fuel or to power the fuel cells that may replace internal combustion engines, researchers are depending on nanotechnology.

"By using new advanced materials now becoming available through nanoscience, scientists can take advantage of quantum phenomena that occur at this scale," she said.

Nanotechnology can help develop efficient, inexpensive catalysts for hydrogen production and storage. Several chemical species contain hydrogen in high concentrations, but the trick is to release hydrogen from its strong chemical bonds to make it usable in a system like a car that needs a steady flow of fuel.

Also see New Advances Made in Hydrogen Fuel Cells.
The best hope for bringing the hydrogen-fueled automobile to the American roadway may be a technology that is invisible to the naked eye.

The technology is in the form of tiny graphite structures that together act as a sponge to absorb and store hydrogen in the fuel system of the automobile. Onboard storage of hydrogen gas is the major obstacle impeding the progress and wide-scale commercial production of the hydrogen-powered vehicle, which many view as the next generation in energy-efficient and environmentally friendly road transportation.

The graphite structures are a product of the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. Engineers design the structures at the molecular level, working in scales as small as millimeters and nanometers. The engineers stack the fibrous platelets one atop the other, leaving the optimum gap between the wafers; then they arrange the chemistry so that hydrogen molecules are absorbed in the graphite.

The nanostructures are extremely porous, like a sponge, allowing them to absorb large capacities of hydrogen until fully saturated. Experiments demonstrate that the hydrogen storage in graphite nanofibers is safe.

Another method of hydrogen storage derived from nanotechnology involves carbon nano-tubes. With carbon nanotubes, engineers arrange carbon platelets in different configurations. Research has shown the carbon nanotubes to display strong hydrogen storage capabilities.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Nanopore Method Could Revolutionize DNA Sequencing

Nanopore Method Could Revolutionize Genome Sequencing.

A team led by physicists at the University of California, San Diego has shown the feasibility of a fast, inexpensive technique to sequence DNA as it passes through tiny pores. The advance brings personalized, genome-based medicine closer to reality.

The paper, published in the April issue of the journal Nano Letters , describes a method to sequence a human genome in a matter of hours at a potentially low cost, by measuring the electrical perturbations generated by a single strand of DNA as it passes through a pore more than a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Because sequencing a person's genome would take several months and millions of dollars with current DNA sequencing technology, the researchers say that the new method has the potential to usher in a revolution in medicine.


The researchers caution that there are still hurdles to overcome because no one has yet made a nanopore with the required configuration of electrodes, but they think it is only a matter of time before someone successfully assembles the device. The nanopore and the electrodes have been made separately, and although it is technically challenging to bring them together, the field is advancing so rapidly that they think it should be possible in the near future.

In addition to the speed and low cost of the nanopore method, the researchers calculate that it will ultimately be significantly less error-prone than current methods.

DNA moving through a nanopore (click to enlarge)

Personalized medication will be far more effective than our current 'one-size-fits-all' type of drugs. In reality, one size doesn't fit all.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Brain Computer Interface Commercially Viable

Brain Computer Interface Commercially Viable.

A non-invasive device that allows severely paralysed people to interact with a computer via their brain signals has been improved to make it a viable commercial product by Cambridge Consultants (CCL).

Known as a brain-computer interface (BCI), the device uses electroencephalography (EEG) to detect microvolt brain signals, then applies an adaptive algorithm that focuses on the EEG features the person is best able to control.

Those signals can be mapped onto functions for tasks such as manoeuvring a cursor around a PC screen, or for spelling out words for a speech synthesiser.

The system, developed by researchers at the Wadsworth Center, a New York State health unit, originally used a large, $13,000 64-channel amp and the user had to wear a bulky cap to apply 64 electrodes to the skull.

CCL’s input involved reducing the size, complexity and cost to make it more suitable for home or hospital use.


The cost of the enhanced system has been reduced to $5,000, the amount users can claim from Medicare for a speech-assist device.

Right now, usage of these types of systems is limited to paralysed people. But inventions that were originally made for the ill, have a tendency of ending up being used by other people as well (example: bubblebaths; originally invented for people with backaches).

In the future, our computers will be able to read our minds. We'll be giving it commands by thinking about them.

That should make for an interesting videogame experience. ;)

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Robot Uses Solar Power For 500km Trek

Robot Uses Solar Power For 500km Trek.

The Cool Robot is a solar-powered four-wheel-drive autonomous science vehicle designed for summer use in the Antarctica and Greenland.

Developed in New Hampshire by the US Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, together with the state’s Dartmouth College, it weighs 61kg and measures 1.2x1.2x1.0m.

Providing the summer sun is above 16°C, Cool Robot can drive on soft snow entirely powered by its solar cells at a speed of 0.78m/s where consumption averages to 160W.

Estimates based on these figures, obtained from testing in Greenland last year, suggest that over two weeks it will be able to carry a 15kg payload 500km across the Arctic plateau.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Getting Evolution Up To Speed

Getting Evolution Up To Speed.

New evidence suggests humans are evolving more rapidly -- and more recently -- than most people thought possible. But for some radical evolutionists, Homo sapiens isn't morphing quickly enough.


Some radical thinkers suggest human evolution needs to move even faster, with a little help from science.

"Biological evolution is too slow for the human species," said Ray Kurzweil, futurist and author of The Singularity Is Near. "Over the next few decades, it's going to be left in the dust."


Trans-humanist pundit James Hughes, author of Citizen Cyborg, thinks it's time to speed up the evolutionary process.

"You can take what nature gave you, but there's no good reason to take nature as a guide for where you should go in the future," Hughes said.

"People are comforted by the slow pace of biological evolution," said Kurzweil. He predicted that "genetic reprogramming" will soon lead to "dramatic evolutionary changes."

The biotech era is slated for the 2010-2020 timeframe. In that decade, we will likely use drugs to mimic a genetic modification and see how we like the results. Cutting edge technologies such as RNA Interference will help in making that come to pass.

If the mimicked modification works out well, many of us will probably choose to make the genetic modification permanent.

By modifying our genetics, we can solve such things as obesity and baldness. It can be used to make us predisposed to growing muscle tissue. And with any luck, we could all get the genetics to digest anything extremely well, rendering us less susceptible to the negative side effects of things we like to eat and drink.

We could even become super-regenerative.

Our health, our looks and the overall quality of our lives are likely to increase a great deal in the coming years because of gene-mod technology.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Stem Cells Used To Regrow Broken Bone

Stem Cell Therapy A World First.

A Melbourne man is the first person in the world whose own stem cells are being used to try to mend a broken leg.

The cutting-edge stem-cell technology has helped Jamie Stevens, 21, back on his feet.

A motorcycle crash nine months ago left him with a severely broken left thigh bone. Part of the femur stuck through his leg, and other parts of the bone were missing.

The bone failed to heal and Mr Stevens's leg was held together by a large titanium plate.

Royal Melbourne Hospital orthopedics director Richard de Steiger decided Mr Stevens was the ideal first patient for a revolutionary stem-cell trial at the hospital.

About seven weeks ago, Mr de Steiger harvested bone marrow from Mr Stevens' pelvis.

The adult stem cells were then separated from the other cells.

A sub-group of stem cells called mesenchymal precursor cells -- those that can transform into tissues including bone, cartilage and heart -- were isolated and grown.

Last week, about 30 million of these cells were implanted into the 5cm x 3cm hole in Mr Stevens' thigh bone.

The cells were coated on to pieces of calcium phosphate that act as a scaffold for the cells when they are placed inside the bone.

The cells are expected to regenerate new bone and grow through the calcium phosphate.

Yesterday, just four days after surgery, Mr Stevens went home.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Cheaper Fuel Cells

Cheaper Fuel Cells.

Fuel cells still cost too much to be a viable alternative for internal combustion engines in cars -- they require expensive materials and are difficult to make. Now [...] a new, simple-to-produce material boosts the performance of fuel cells many times -- and could be a major step toward making them affordable.


The researchers say the new membrane conducts protons nearly three times as well as the currently used material, significantly improving power density. Also, unlike the current material, the new membrane can be easily molded into patterns to increase its surface area. By increasing the area by up to 60 percent, the researchers have further doubled the power density of a fuel cell. Joseph DeSimone, the UNC-Chapel Hill chemistry and chemical engineering professor who heads the lab where the work was done, thinks they can increase the membrane's surface area 20 to 40 times by using different patterns, increasing the power density proportionately.

Such improvements in power density mean that a much smaller fuel cell could provide adequate power for a vehicle. The material is also easier to work with, which should reduce manufacturing costs.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Building Cyborgs In Real Life

'We can rebuild him. We have the technology.' Almost.

Three decades after the hit television programme The Six Million Dollar Man described how the broken body of a former astronaut was rebuilt with mechanical parts, scientists are closer than ever to creating such cyborgs.

The character Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors, became a 1970s pop culture icon after his legs, right arm and left eye were replaced in an operation that gave the world the catch phrase: "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology."

Yesterday, at the Experimental Biology 2006 meeting attended by around 12,000 delegates in San Francisco, leading scientists explained in a symposium on "The $6 Billion (Hu) Man" how much of what was once fiction is becoming reality - including electronically powered legs, arms and eyes.

It's the same with sixties Star Trek. Much of what was considered extremely hi-tech in that show, is now considered old fashioned.

Funny how things like that can work out.

Anyway... the source article goes in depth about cybernetic legs, arms, hands, eyes and ears.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Car That Drives Itself

The Car That Drives Itself.

It’s not KITT, but it’s close: The Honda Accord ADAS can sense its proximity to other cars and objects and steer itself to stay within lane lines. And you thought cruise control was cool.

Video clip at the source. Be sure to check it out.

Also see Driverless Cars Race 130 Miles.

With things going as fast as they are in this area, I have a gut-feeling we can expect our cars to do a lot of driving for us well before 2020.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

On Regrowing Organs

Regrow Your Own.

Stem cell therapy has long captured the limelight as a way to the goal of regenerative medicine, that of repairing the body with its own natural systems. But a few scientists, working in a relatively obscure field, believe another path to regenerative medicine may be as likely to succeed. The less illustrious approach is promising, in their view, because it is the solution that nature itself has developed for repairing damaged limbs or organs in a wide variety of animals.

Many species, notably amphibians and certain fish, can regenerate a wide variety of their body parts. The salamander can regenerate its limbs, its tail, its upper and lower jaws, the lens and the retina of its eye, and its intestine. The zebra fish will regrow fins, scales, spinal cord and part of its heart.

Mammals, too, can renew damaged parts of their body. All can regenerate the liver. Deer regrow their antlers, some at the rate of 2 centimeters a day, said to be the fastest rate of organ growth in animals. In many of these cases, regeneration begins when the mature cells at the site of a wound start to revert to an immature state. The clump of immature cells, known as a blastema, then regrows the missing part, perhaps by tapping into the embryogenesis program that first formed the animal.


There are reports that the tip of the finger can occasionally be regenerated, if the cut is above the last joint. And people can vigorously repair damage to the liver. Even after 75 percent has been removed in surgery, the liver regains its original mass in two to three weeks. It is not certain why other organs and limbs have lost this useful capacity, but perhaps only the liver was damaged often enough during its owner's lifetime to make a repair system worth the cost. "I believe that the reason is the extensive and recurring injury that the liver was exposed to in evolution: rotten food, plant toxins, viruses," says Markus Grompe, a liver expert at the Oregon Health and Science University.


Regeneration and stem cell therapy are promising aspects of regenerative medicine but both are still at the research stage. "I'm very bullish on regenerative medicine," said Dr. Keating, alluding to both types. "I think it's going to happen and it will be a revolution, but it will take time. It would be a mistake to oversell it and promise too much too early."


Stem cells aren't the only way we might regenerate lost limbs and organs. The body seems to have the capability to regrow much all by itself, it's just that the genes responsible for it are shut off. Future drugs might activate the genes again, thereby giving us back our regenerative capabilities.

Also see the Super Renegerative Mouse.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bionic Device Allows Woman To See Without Eyes

New Device Allows Woman To See, Even Without Eyes.

More than a million people in the United States are legally blind. Many of them once had vision but tragically lost it. Now a breakthrough device could give them back some of their sight.


Robertson is blind, but this device allows her to see, not with her eyes but with her brain! Fifteen years ago, she lost both of her eyes in a car accident. She was just 19 years old.

"When I realized yes, I am going to be blind, I thought, I guess I'm going to learn to do things a little differently now," Robertson says. And she did. She traveled to Portugal to become the 16th person in the world to have special electrodes implanted in her brain. With the help of a device, she could see again!

"I said, ‘Oh my God, I can see it. I can see it,' and I was just so excited!"

Neurosurgeon Kenneth Smith, M.D., of Saint Louis University School of Medicine, said the procedure is the first to reverse blindness in patients without eyes. "They are really seeing. The brain is getting impulses just like when you and I see."

bionic vision

Be sure to check out the movie at the source article.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Speedy Walking Robot Developed

Speedy Robot Legs It To Break Record.

A two-legged robot that walks at record-breaking speed has been developed by researchers from Germany and Scotland.

"RunBot" is the fastest robot on two legs – for its size. At 30 centimetres high, it can walk at a speedy 3.5 leg-lengths per second. This beats the previous record holder – MIT's "Spring Flamingo" – which is four times as tall but manages just 1.4 leg-lengths per second.

The robot is controlled by a simple program that mimics the way neurons control reflexes in humans and other animals. Unlike most other two-legged robots, RunBot has few sensors and can detect just two things – when a foot touches the ground, and when a leg swings forward.

"We wanted to show that a very simple system with a simple neuronal controller could walk in a natural manner – and fast," says Florentin Wörgötter, from the University of Göttingen in Germany, who developed RunBot along with researchers at the University of Glasgow and the University of Stirling, both in Scotland.

Two mpeg videos show RunBot walking at a steady speed and gradually learning to walk more rapidly.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Organs Grown In Lab, Implemented In Humans

On a Scaffold in the Lab, Doctors Build a Bladder.

Bladders created in the laboratory from a patient's own cells and then implanted in seven young people have achieved good long-term results in all of them, a team of researchers reported yesterday in a medical journal.

It takes about two months to grow the new bladder on a scaffold outside the body. After implantation, the engineered bladder enlarges over time in the recipient. The researchers say they expect that the new bladder will last a patient's lifetime, but the longevity will be known only as the children grow older.

The hope is that someday the experimental reconstruction procedure will be standard for larger numbers of patients, including adults, and for those with other kinds of bladder damage.

A major advantage of his technique is that rejection cannot occur because the cells used to create a new bladder are from the patient, not from another individual. So an ultimate aim — still years off — is to develop the technique to grow a wide variety of other tissues, possibly even organs, to help relieve the shortage of donor organs available for transplanting, said the research team's leader, Dr. Anthony Atala. He directs the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Not only useful for replacing organs, but also for total body rejuvenation.

Imagine a future where we could replenesh our aging bodies with younger cells. This would mean a gigantic boost for human health and longevity.


Here is an article (Adobe Acrobat Reader required and freely available) that covers this in more detail.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

10 Medical Breakthroughs To Watch Out For In The Next 10 Years

10 Medical Breakthroughs to Watch for in the Next 10 Years.

In the last decade, scientists have mapped the human genome, begun to unlock the secrets of stem cells and made strides in battling diseases with treatments that were the stuff of science fiction not long ago.

What about the decade to come?

"The current state of medicine is too 'one-size-fits-all,' " said William Moffitt, chief executive officer of the Northbrook- based biotechnology company Nanosphere Inc. "The future of medicine is to treat diseases on an individualized level, to personalize the treatment," Moffitt said.

That's the sphere of nanotechnology, the science of engineering applications at the molecular level. "Nanotechnology will start from the other end of the spectrum, because if you want to treat a disease on the genetic or molecular level, you need tools that are small and precise enough to do that for you."

Exactly. And we're getting closer to sophisticated nanotech tools with every passing day.

The 10 medical breakthroughs forecasted by this article:
  1. Cancer
  2. Obesity
  3. Heart disease
  4. Avian flue
  5. Mental disease
  6. Alzheimer's disease
  7. Paralysis
  8. Laser technology (for accurately diagnosing and destroying tumors)
  9. Pregnancy screening
  10. Public health

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Home Robots To Be Pushed Into The Mainstream

In a Wired South Korea, Robots Will Feel Right at Home.

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea, the world's most wired country, is rushing to turn what sounds like science fiction into everyday life. The government, which succeeded in getting broadband Internet into 72 percent of all households in the last half decade, has marshaled an army of scientists and business leaders to make robots full members of society.

By 2007, networked robots that, say, relay messages to parents, teach children English and sing and dance for them when they are bored, are scheduled to enter mass production. Outside the home, they are expected to guide customers at post offices or patrol public areas, searching for intruders and transmitting images to monitoring centers.

If all goes according to plan, robots will be in every South Korean household between 2015 and 2020. That is the prediction, at least, of the Ministry of Information and Communication, which has grouped more than 30 companies, as well as 1,000 scientists from universities and research institutes, under its wing. Some want to move even faster.

"My personal goal is to put a robot in every home by 2010," said Oh Sang Rok, manager of the ministry's intelligent service robot project.

What are the implications of this?

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rapid Nano Molding

Rapid Nano Molding.

Researchers are using a new all-purpose nano synthesis method to design cancer-fighting nanoparticles.

A highly versatile method for making nanoparticles has now been used to make multipurpose cancer treatment particles. According to Joseph DeSimone, chemistry and chemical engineering professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, who presented the work at the American Chemical Society conference this week in Atlanta, the new synthesis method has potential applications in fuel cells, microfluidics, and vaccines as well.

The process has the "ability to create nanoparticles of nearly any shape or chemical composition. It is very, very promising," says Shelton Earp, director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at UNC. Experts at the cancer center are now starting live animal tests of nanoparticles that were made using the method. The particles are designed to slip out of the bloodstream and deliver both drugs and imaging agents directly to cancer cells, sparing healthy cells. Such targeted delivery could significantly improve both the safety and effectiveness of cancer drugs. Earp says that within a year, separate studies will show whether particles made this way can safely and effectively combat skin and breast cancer in mice.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

The Fountain Of Health

TechnologyReview has an article on current trends in anti aging research. The article touches on the familiar topic of caloric restriction, the consequences thereof and other things.

What caught my eye, however, was this:

Up until a decade or so ago, most biologists believed that the aging process was not only immensely complex but also inevitable. People aged, they assumed, much the way an old car does: eventually, everything just falls apart. Then in the early 1990s, Cynthia Kenyon, a young molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, found that mutating a single gene, called daf-2, in worms doubled their life spans. Before the discovery, says Kenyon, "everyone thought aging just happened. To control aging, you had to fix everything, so it was impossible." Kenyon's research suggested a compelling alternative: that a relatively simple genetic network controlled the rate of aging.

The race to find the genetic fountain of youth was on. Within a few years, Leonard Guarente, a biologist at MIT, found that in yeast, another gene produced a similar dramatic increase in life span. Soon after, Guarente and his MIT coworkers made another startling discovery: the yeast antiaging gene, called sir2, required for its activity a common molecule that is involved in numerous metabolic reactions. Guarente, it seemed, had found a possible connection between an antiaging gene and diet. The gene, Guarente thought, might be responsible for the health benefits of calorie restriction; and indeed, the lab soon confirmed that calorie restriction in yeast had life-extending effects only when sir2 was present.

Not too long ago, in the mid ninetees, my own biology teacher at the time explained to us that the reason why we age is wear and tear. Now, it is becoming more and more clear that the aging process is a programmed process, and that it can be tweaked to our advantage.

Curing aging is not the gargantuan and impossible task that some uninformed people would have you believed. It's way simpler than that. Still a big task, but nowhere even close to impossible.

Also see The Quest For Immortality.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Nanonutrient's Promise: Vast Increases In Human Health

Nanonutrient's Promise: Vast Increases In Human Health

Newswise — The emerging discipline of nanotechnology holds the promise of improving functional foods and the capability of delivering healthful food compounds to the body where it can utilize them best. This is according to the latest issue of Food Technology magazine.

Remarkable achievements in nanotechnology—the science, engineering and technology of controlling matter one-billionth a meter in size—show great potential for positively influencing human health, the article states. By enhancing solubility, improving bioavailability, and facilitating the controlled release and protecting the stability of micronutrients in food products, nanotechnology could be a successful method to design smart food systems able to target specific systems within the body and their functions.


The article notes that nanoparticles are excellent for rapidly delivering high concentrations of healthy, active ingredients directly to cell membranes. On the other hand, the article highlights that nanoscale adhesive properties may be used to bind to harmful matter and remove potentially harmful compounds from the digestive tract.

Another interesting article (and videoclip) on nanofood can be found on ScienCentral.
Everyday foods may soon be able to carry medicines and supplements, or even take on your favorite color. As this ScienCentral News video explains, physicists are using nanotechnology to create tiny edible capsules that release their contents on demand.


Nanotechnologists are working on adding ingredients that could one day "program" the contents of your cupboard, at a moment's notice, filling your pantry with, "Functional foods… to enhance its health value, its taste, its smell, its general quality," explains Harvard University David Weitz. Using the same technique they might even make taking your medicines as easy eating a candy bar.

But, many Americans associate the phrase "artificial ingredients" with unhealthy eating habits, so Weitz's work might turn that notion upside down. "If you drink a milkshake, you look at it and worry that you're going to gain weight because it tastes so good. You might imagine something that would limit the ability of the body to absorb all the fat, or add a nutrient or enzyme that would improve the benefits of the milkshake so you wouldn't worry about the weight you are about to gain by drinking the tasty milkshake," he says.

I personally am looking forward to this. Even though I eat and exercise healthy, I have suffered from minor health problems in the past and still do now. It's nothing that has ever gotten in the way of living life to the fullest, but I'd still like to get rid of them anyway. Just so I could feel healthier than I do now.

It is my experience that eating healthy and exercising solves a lot, but not everything. In order to cure some things, you need supplements and medication. Simply because a standard healthy diet of fruit and veggies doesn't cut it.

Nano-engineered food that has extra supplements, medications or other particles that counter the negative effects and enhance the positive effects of what you eat, would be very welcome in my life. And I'm guessing that goes for a lot of other people as well, even though they don't realize it themselves.

Also, I hate the taste of vegetables. I stuff them down my face 6 days a week, because I know my body needs them. Nevertheless, I regard vegetables as rabbit food. And that's the last thing I want to come home to after an 8 hour day of work.

My life would sure be a lot easier if vegetables could be nano-engineered to taste like french fries.

The term nanofood is already popular on the web. Several sources tell me it's only a few years away from becoming mainstream. Hey, sounds good to me. Not only will it improve the quality of our lives, it will also do wonders for the reputation of nanotechnology in the eyes of the public.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Nano Welding Could Join Molecular Devices

Nano Welding Could Join Molecular Devices

A nanoscale welding technique has been developed by sparking high-temperature chemical reactions inside "nanopores".

The technique could ultimately be used to weld together nanoscale components and could also lend itself to nanoscopic chemistry experiments, say the researchers.


Richter says nanoscale thermite reactions could perhaps be used to "weld" together molecular machines. But the real value of the technique could be more wide-ranging, he believes. The holes filled with iron oxide could be used as nano-receptacles for other chemicals, giving chemists finer control of chemical reactions, he says.

"This is something we couldn't do before - chemists have to rely on random processes to bring reactants together," Richter told New Scientist. "Being able to impose order on such a small scale could make a big difference."

For example, Richter suggests the technique might be used in manufacturing metal compounds. "The strength of alloys depends on how many flaws they have, and the technique we developed could allow very ordered arrangement of different compounds to make sure no flaws form," he says.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Scientists Demonstrate Quantum Nature Of Entanglement Swapping

Scientists Demonstrate Quantum Nature Of Entanglement Swapping.

As if plain old quantum entanglement weren’t strange enough for modern physics, now physicists are entangling already entangled particles. In entanglement swapping, one particle of an entangled pair becomes entangled with a third particle, which itself becomes entangled with the other particle in the first pair, even though the two never interact. Here’s how physicists are unraveling this behavior and manipulating it for use in quantum communications and high-speed computing.

Even as today’s most powerful supercomputers can send information at ever increasing speeds, scientists predict that quantum computers will operate millions of times faster. With the help of entangled photons, which instantaneously correlate with one another even when separated by large distances, scientists are developing a process called quantum teleportation. Currently, however, physicists can only teleport information a hundred or so miles before signal loss weakens the connection.


With a quantum repeater – containing an independent, synchronized photon source – located at periodic locations along the channel, a computational signal will receive a power boost, enabling it to continue toward its destination. In a sense, entanglement swapping is a bit like fueling your car at a gas station – but you can skip all the driving in between.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button