Archive for November, 2007

Gene could hold secret to youth

November 30, 2007

A single gene could hold the secret to eternal youth, scientists have shown, after rejuvenating the skin of two-year-old mice by blocking its activity.

Not only did the animals appear more youthful, but at a biological level they resembled new-borns. The same gene, NF-kappa-B, is thought to play a role in numerous other aspects of ageing.

It acts as a regulator, causing a wide range of other genes to be more or less active in older people.

Dr Howard Chang, from the Stanford School of Medicine in California, who led the research, said: “We found a pretty striking reversal to that of the young skin.

However, he cautioned against raising false hopes of a “fountain of youth” that can turn back time. At present no one knows how long the rejuvenating process lasts. Also, scientists do not know long-term effects that might result from tinkering with NF-kappa-B, a so-called transcription factor which helps control gene activity.

Source:  The Press Association


Rosie makes the rounds at Michigan hospital

November 30, 2007

The Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press has a cool article on a robot currently being used at a local hospital. 

The robot, created by Aethon, looks like a filing cabinet on wheels, is wireless, has a schematic of the hospital programmed in her brain and makes rounds every two hours, pausing to recharge her batteries in between.

The company calls her Tug, as in tugboat, but, get ready now, the hospital staff named her Rosie after the humanoid housekeeper in The Jetsons animated TV series.   

There are a little more than 100 of the robots working in hospitals across the United States. 

Full article:  Grand Rapids Press (video is included at link)

Robots dazzle at Japanese exhibit

November 29, 2007

A robot math whiz breezes through a Rubik’s Cube, using metal hands to twist and turn the colorful toy. A panda robot uses sensors to detect when people are laughing, and joins in. A dentistry student peers into the mouth of a new patient — a humanoid practice robot with a complete set of pearly white teeth.

Japan showed off its cutting-edge robots Wednesday at the country’s largest robotics convention, a dazzling display of the technologies that make it a world leader in both service and industrial robotics.

The dental training robot, dubbed Simroid for “simulator humanoid,” has realistic skin, eyes, and a mouth fitted with replica teeth that students practice drilling on. A sensor fitted where the nerve endings would be raises the alert when they drill too close — triggering a yelp from the robot.

Source:  Associated Press

Novel Compounds May Battle Diseases of Aging

November 29, 2007

Experimental compounds aimed at treating diseases such as type 2 diabetes show promise, scientists say.

These “novel chemical entities” activate SIRT1, a gene controlling the aging process, the researchers report in the Nov. 29 issue of Nature.

In obese mice, these compounds improved insulin sensitivity, lowered plasma glucose levels, and increased the function of mitochondria (the powerhouse of cells).

In rats, the compounds improved whole body glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity in fat tissue, skeletal muscle, and the liver.  The experimental compounds were developed and tested by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.

Source:  Washington Post

NASA outlines manned Mars vision

November 29, 2007

Artist's impression of astronaut on Mars. Image: NasaNASA has released details of its strategy for sending a human crew to Mars within the next few decades.

The US space agency envisages despatching a “minimal” crew on a 30-month round trip to the Red Planet in a 400,000kg (880,000lb) spacecraft.

Details of the concept were outlined at a meeting in Houston, Texas.

In January 2004, President George W Bush launched a programme for returning humans to the Moon by 2020 and – at an undetermined date – to Mars.

The “Mars ship” would be assembled in low-Earth orbit using three to four Ares V rockets – the new heavy-lift launch vehicle that Nasa has been developing.

Source:  BBC News

Company developing ‘Segway of the sky’

November 28, 2007

BitarAir Buoyant is developing a one-person flying platform called the VertiPod. Classified as an ultralight aircraft, the propeller-powered VertiPod’s simple controls could spark a transportation revolution.

“It’s kind of the first step toward the flying car,” said Air Buoyant President and CEO Pete Bitar. “We call it the Segway of the sky. It has a rudder that steers it laterally, but you just lean in the direction you want to go.”

The Vertipod looks a bit like a one-passenger helicopter turned upside-down. Its propeller is on the bottom and the pilot stands on a platform built around it with back support and controls at waist-level.

It is powered by a 440-cubic-centimeter engine that runs on gasoline or ethanol and can be activated with a pull-start, like a lawnmower. The VertiPod is intended to travel five to 15 feet above ground at a top speed of 40 mph. Bitar said it will be sold for $10,000 in a kit that can be assembled in a weekend.

Source:  Wired’s Danger Room

‘Supermouse’ bred to beat cancer

November 28, 2007

MouseMice carrying a gene which appears to make them invulnerable to cancer may hold the key to safer and more effective treatments for humans.

The new breed, created with a more active “Par-4” gene, did not develop tumours, and even lived longer, said the journal Cancer Research.

University of Kentucky researchers said a human cancer treatment was possible.  Cancer Research UK said that more research would be needed to prove it didn’t just work in mice.

Par-4 was originally discovered in the early 1990s working inside human prostate cancers, and is believed to have a role in “programmed cell death”, the body’s own system for rooting out and destroying damaged or faulty cells.

Source:  BBC News

Google’s New Search — for Cheap, Clean Electricity

November 28, 2007

solar-thermal mirror systsm

A heap of climate and energy experts have been aching for government and/or the private sector to step forward in a big way to take on the challenge of diverting the world from its expanding appetite for fossil fuels.

Google has now announced what looks like just the kind of effort they’ve all been talking about. The initiative is called Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal. Company officials said they planned to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that aim to make nonpolluting technologies for generating electricity competitive with what has been the norm for the last 100 years — burning black rocks.

An initial focus will be solar thermal technology, in which arrays of mirrors heat a substance to drive a generator.

Source:  New York Times

Stem Cells: Beyond the Hype, Engineers Look to Build Fast

November 28, 2007

Even on the fast-paced, 0pen-source highway of biology, it’s a long road from breakthrough to application—one usually built by engineers, who figure out how to take the delicate results of lab experiments and make them robust enough to survive the onslaught of industry.

That’s why, for biomedical engineers like Peter Zandstra, last week’s news that embryonic stem cells had been created from human skin cells came as a beginning, not an end.

“It’s a huge step,” Zandstra says. “But the stem cells themselves are not useful for anything. That was the problem before this announcement—and that’s still the problem today.”

The good news is that stem-cell engineers, however under-the-radar, had recently been laying the groundwork.

Source:  Popular Mechanics

Robot with soft hands chats, serves meal

November 27, 2007


A pearly white robot that looks a little like E.T. boosted a man out of bed, chatted and helped prepare his breakfast with its deft hands in Tokyo Tuesday, in a further sign robots are becoming more like their human inventors.

Twendy-One, named as a 21st century edition of a previous robot, Wendy, has soft hands and fingers that gently grip, enough strength to support humans as they sit up and stand, and supple movements that respond to human touch.

It can pick up a loaf of bread without crushing it, serve toast and help lift people out of bed.

Source:  Reuters