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  • China Pulls Plug On Genetically Modified Rice and Corn

    sciencehabit writes China's Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to renew biosafety certificates that allowed research groups to grow genetically modified (GM) rice and corn. The permits, to grow two varieties of GM rice and one transgenic corn strain, expired on 17 August. The reasoning behind the move is not clear, and it has raised questions about the future of related research in China.

    150 comments | 2 days ago

  • Introducing Slashdot's New Build Section

    Along with the rest of the mix that makes this site work, Slashdot has nearly two decades now of spotting and showing off interesting projects, inventions, technologies, and hobbies. Some of them are strictly personal, some are frankly commercial, and some are the fruits of ambitious organizations (or tiny teams) motivated by curiosity and passion (or even politics, or just plain fun). As outlined earlier, we've been gathering a lot of these into our new Build section; read on to learn a bit more about what that includes. (And watch out later today for the first part of our conversation with technology-inspiring Rennaisance Man Tim O'Reilly, and later in the week for answers to the questions you asked Bunnie Huang.)

    34 comments | 3 days ago

  • Transparent Fish Lead to Stem Cell Research Breakthrough

    brindafella (702231) writes Australian scientists have accidentally made one of the most significant discoveries in stem cell research, by studying the transparent embryos of Zebrafish (Danio rerio). The fish can be photographed and their development studied over time, and the movies can be played backwards, to track back from key developmental stages to find the stem cell basis for various traits of the fish. This fundamental research started by studying muscles, but the blood stem cell breakthrough was a bonus. They've found out how hematopoietic stem cells (HSC), among the most important stem cells found in blood and bone marrow, is formed. The scientists are based at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University. The research has been published in the Nature medical journal. This discovery could lead to the production of self-renewing stem cells in the lab to treat multiple blood disorders and diseases.

    33 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Injecting Liquid Metal Into Blood Vessels Could Help Kill Tumors

    KentuckyFC (1144503) writes One of the most interesting emerging treatments for certain types of cancer aims to starve the tumor to death. The strategy involves destroying or blocking the blood vessels that supply a tumor with oxygen and nutrients. Without its lifeblood, the unwanted growth shrivels up and dies. This can be done by physically blocking the vessels with blood clots, gels, balloons, glue, nanoparticles and so on. However, these techniques have never been entirely successful because the blockages can be washed away by the blood flow and the materials do not always fill blood vessels entirely, allowing blood to flow round them. Now Chinese researchers say they've solved the problem by filling blood vessels with an indium-gallium alloy that is liquid at body temperature. They've tested the idea in the lab on mice and rabbits. Their experiments show that the alloy is relatively benign but really does fill the vessels, blocks the blood flow entirely and starves the surrounding tissue of oxygen and nutrients. The team has also identified some problems such as the possibility of blobs of metal being washed into the heart and lungs. Nevertheless, they say their approach is a promising injectable tumor treatment.

    111 comments | about two weeks ago

  • About Half of Kids' Learning Ability Is In Their DNA

    Taco Cowboy writes with this story about new research that finds a strong genetic component to a child's ability in math and reading. "You may think you're better at reading than you are at math (or vice versa), but new research suggests you're probably equally good (or bad) at both. The reason: The genes that determine a person's ability to tackle one subject influence their aptitude at the other, accounting for about half of a person's overall ability. The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, used nearly 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to tease apart the effects of genetic inheritance and environmental variables on math and reading ability. The researchers administered a set of math and verbal tests to the children and then compared the performance of different sets of twins. They found that the twins' scores — no matter if they were high or low — were twice as similar among pairs of identical twins as among pairs of fraternal twins. The results indicated that approximately half of the children's math and reading ability stemmed from their genetic makeup.

    A complementary analysis of unrelated kids corroborated this conclusion — strangers with equivalent academic abilities shared genetic similarities. What's more, the genes responsible for math and reading ability appear to be numerous and interconnected, not specifically targeted toward one set of skills. These so-called 'generalist genes' act in concert to determine a child's aptitude across multiple disciplines. The finding that one's propensities for math and reading go hand in hand may come as a surprise to many, but it shouldn't. People often feel that they possess skills in only one area simply because they perform slightly worse in the other."

    227 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Senior RIKEN Scientist Involved In Stem Cell Scandal Commits Suicide

    sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Yoshiki Sasai, a noted stem cell scientist at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Kobe, Japan, who co-authored two controversial and later retracted papers that reported a simple way of reprogramming mature cells, was confirmed dead this morning, an apparent suicide. Local media reported he was found hanging from a stairway railing in the RIKEN complex in Kobe. Sasai was rushed to a nearby hospital but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. He reportedly left a suicide note, but it has not been made public."

    127 comments | about two weeks ago

  • "Secret Serum" Used To Treat Americans With Ebola

    mrspoonsi (2955715) writes with news that the two Americans infected with Ebola in Liberia and transported to Atlanta for treatment were given an experimental drug, and their conditions appear to be improving. From the article: While some people do fight off the disease on their own, in the case of the two Americans, an experimental serum may have saved their lives. As Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol waited in a Liberian hospital, someone from the National Institutes of Health reached out to Samaritan's Purse, one of the two North Carolina-based Christian relief groups the two were working with, and offered to have vials of an experimental drug called ZMapp sent to Liberia, according to CNN's unnamed source. Although the Food and Drug Administration does allow experimental drugs to occasionally be distributed in life-threatening circumstances without approval under the expanded access or "compassionate use" conditions. It's not yet clear whether that approval was granted in this case or not. ... Brantly, who had been sick for nine days already ... [received] the first dose ... within an hour, he was able to breathe better and a rash on his body started to fade. The next day he was able to shower without help before boarding the air ambulance that flew him to Atlanta.

    390 comments | about three weeks ago

  • DNA Project 'to Make UK World Genetic Research Leader'

    mrspoonsi (2955715) writes A project aiming to revolutionise medicine by unlocking the secrets of DNA is under way in centres across England. Prime Minister David Cameron has said it "will see the UK lead the world in genetic research within years". The first genetic codes of people with cancer or rare diseases, out of a target of 100,000, have been sequenced. Experts believe it will lead to targeted therapies and could make chemotherapy "a thing of the past". Just one human genome contains more than three billion base pairs — the building blocks of DNA. Prof Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "I can see a future where genetics is going to come into every bit of medicine from cardiology to oncology to infectious diseases." "Twenty years from now there's going to be a plethora of those, we will have a series of mutations which academics and industry will have developed therapies for, which will be targeted at you and specific for that cancer." He said chemotherapy, which attacks all dividing cells in the body, would be replaced with such therapies. "We will look back in 20 years' time and think of blockbuster chemotherapy [as] a thing of the past and we'll think 'Gosh, what an era that was'." David Cameron has announced a series of investments across government, industry and charities totalling £300m ($500m).

    65 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Genetically Modifying an Entire Ecosystem

    New submitter structural_biologist writes: Genes normally have a 50-50 chance of being passed from parent to offspring, but scientists may have figured out a way to create genes that show up in offspring with a much higher frequency. "One type of gene drive influences inheritance by copying itself onto chromosomes that previously lacked it. When an organism inherits such a gene drive from only one parent, it makes a cut in the chromosome from the other parent, forcing the cell to copy the inheritance-biasing gene drive—and any adjacent genes—when it repairs the damage." When introduced into the wild, organisms containing gene drives would breed with the population, quickly spreading the modified genes throughout the ecosystem. While the technology could help prevent the spread of malaria and manage invasive species, many scientists worry about the wide-ranging effects of such a technology and are calling for its regulation.

    52 comments | about a month ago

  • Gene Therapy Converts Heart Cells Into "Biological Pacemakers"

    Zothecula (1870348) writes Pacemakers serve an invaluable purpose, by electrically stimulating a recipient's heart in order to keep it beating at a steady rate. The implantation of a pacemaker is a major surgical procedure, however, plus its presence in the body can lead to complications such as infections. Now, for the first time, scientists have instead injected genes into the defective hearts of pigs, converting unspecialized heart cells into "biological pacemakers." Research Paper (abstract, full text paywalled).

    26 comments | about a month ago

  • Biohackers Are Engineering Yeast To Make THC

    meghan elizabeth writes How do you get weed without the weed? By genetically engineering yeast to produce THC, of course. Once theorized in a stoner magazine column more than a decade ago, a biotech startup working in Ireland is actively trying to transplant the genetic information that codes for both THC and another cannabinoid called CBD into yeast so that "marijuana" can be grown in a lab—no plants necessary.

    159 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Child Thought To Be Cured of HIV Relapses, Tests Positive Again

    An anonymous reader writes: The Mississippi child, who was born with HIV passed from her mother, received HIV treatment for 18 months after her birth. In the course of over two years after the treatment, her blood indicated no trace of the virus or of HIV-specific antibodies, leading many to hope that she may have been cured completely. Earlier this month, however, the virus was detected again. Nearly 4 years old, the child is once more being given HIV treatment, and scientists are trying to figure out how she could have gone so long before relapsing.

    126 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Wireless Contraception

    Kittenman writes: The BBC is carrying information on a type of contraception (funded in part by Bill Gates) that takes the form of a microchip, inserted under the skin. The chip releases contraceptive hormones to the body until wirelessly advised not to do so. This device has several interesting applications and issues associated with it. The researchers are already working on making the device secure against unauthorized transmissions. There's also the issue of making it easier for governments to control population levels. The chip will be available from 2018. This correspondent will watch the issues with interest.

    302 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Consciousness On-Off Switch Discovered Deep In Brain

    An anonymous reader writes "One moment you're conscious, the next you're not. For the first time, researchers have switched off consciousness by electrically stimulating a single brain area. Although only tested in one person, the discovery suggests that a single area – the claustrum – might be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a seamless package of thoughts, sensations and emotions. It takes us a step closer to answering a problem that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia – namely how our conscious awareness arises. When the team zapped the area with high frequency electrical impulses, the woman lost consciousness. She stopped reading and stared blankly into space, she didn't respond to auditory or visual commands and her breathing slowed. As soon as the stimulation stopped, she immediately regained consciousness with no memory of the event. The same thing happened every time the area was stimulated during two days of experiments.

    284 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Researchers Create Walking, Muscle-Powered Biobots

    Zothecula writes If you're going to deploy robots in biological settings – for example, inside the body – it makes a lot of sense to build those robots out of actual biological body parts. Muscle, for example, is a very effective, biodegradable replacement for an electric actuator that can run in a nutrient-rich fluid without the need for any other power source. Bio-robotics experts in Illinois have demonstrated a bio-bot built from 3-D printed hydrogel and spinal muscle tissue that can "walk" in response to an electrical signal. Their next step will be trying to incorporate neurons that can get the bot walking in different directions when faced with different stimuli.

    33 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • How Did Those STAP Stem Cell Papers Get Accepted In the First Place?

    bmahersciwriter writes The news team at the scientific journal Nature turns its investigative power on the journal itself. The goal: to try and understand how two papers that made extraordinary claims about a new way to create stem cells managed to get published despite some obvious errors and a paucity of solid evidence. The saga behind these so-called STAP cells is engaging, but sadly reminiscent of so many other scientific controversies.

    109 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Fixing Faulty Genes On the Cheap

    An anonymous reader sends an article about CRISPR, a system for modifying genes and moving them from cell to cell. It's notable because the cost to do so is dropping to the point where it's becoming viable to use on a patient-by-patient basis. CRISPR is one of those interesting inventions that comes, not from scientists explicitly trying to cure a disease, but from researchers trying to understand something fundamental about nature. Jennifer Doudna's research at the University of California, Berkeley has focused on how bacteria fight the flu. It turns out bacteria don't like getting flu any more than the rest of us do. Doudna says the way bacteria fight off a flu virus gave her and her colleagues an idea. Bacteria have special enzymes that can cut open the DNA of an invading virus and make a change in the DNA at the site of the cut — essentially killing the virus. Doudna and other scientists figured out how this defense system works in bacteria; that was interesting all by itself. But then they realized that they could modify these enzymes to recognize any DNA sequence, not just the DNA sequence of viruses that infect bacteria.

    105 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Long-Lasting Enzyme Chews Up Cocaine

    MTorrice (2611475) writes "Despite cocaine's undeniable destructiveness, there are no antidotes for overdoses or medications to fight addiction that directly neutralize cocaine's powerful effects. A natural bacterial enzyme, cocaine esterase, could help by chopping up cocaine in the bloodstream. But the enzyme is unstable in the body, losing activity too quickly to be a viable treatment. Now, using computational design, researchers tweaked the enzyme (full paper, PDF) to simultaneously increase stability and catalytic efficiency. Mice injected with the engineered enzyme survive daily lethal doses of cocaine for an average of 94 hours."

    73 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Scientists Successfully Grow Full Head of Hair On Bald Man

    realized writes: "A man with almost no hair on his body has grown a full head of it after a novel treatment by doctors at Yale University. The patient had previously been diagnosed with both alopecia universalis, a disease that results in loss of all body hair, and plaque psoriasis, a condition characterized by scaly red areas of skin. The only hair on his body was within the psoriasis plaques on his head. He was referred to Yale Dermatology for treatment of the psoriasis. The alopecia universalis had never been treated.

    After two months on tofacitinib [an FDA-approved arthritis drug] at 10 mg daily, the patient's psoriasis showed some improvement, and the man had grown scalp and facial hair — the first hair he'd grown there in seven years. After three more months of therapy at 15 mg daily, the patient had completely regrown scalp hair and also had clearly visible eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial hair, as well as armpit and other hair, the doctors said."

    109 comments | about 2 months ago

  • Modular Science is Building Hardware and Software for Lab Automation (Video)

    Modular Science is something Tim Lord spotted at last month's O'Reilly Solid Conference in San Francisco. Its founder, Peter Sand, has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT. He's scheduled to speak at this year's OSCON, and his speaker blurb for that conference says, "He is the founder of ManyLabs, a nonprofit focused on teaching math and science using sensors and simulations. Peter also founded Modular Science, a company working on hardware and software tools for science labs. He has given talks at Science Hack Day, Launch Edu, and multiple academic conferences, including SIGGRAPH." And now he's also been interviewed on Slashdot. Note that there are plenty of lab automation systems out there. Peter is working on one that is not only "an order of magnitude cheaper" than similar devices, but is also easy to modify and expand. It's the sort of system that would fit well not just in a college-level lab, but in a high school lab or a local makerspace. (Alternate Video Link)

    6 comments | about 2 months ago

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