SciTech Briefs

Researchers create self-assembling microscale proteins

At the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering, associate professor Jin Kim Monteclare and a group of collaborators designed nanoscale proteins bound to curcumin, a cancer therapeutic. The outcome was successful, self-assembling nanoscale proteins, which can bind to small molecules through a hydrophobic core.

To the researchers’ surprise, the fibers of the protein grew from a nanoscale to a microscale diameter during incubation with curcumin. The significant jump in size can potentially lead to new opportunities for using engineered protein fibers in the fields of medicine and nanotechnology, such as for scaffolds in tissue engineering or in nanowires for biosensors.

Through fluorescent microscopy, the group was also able to confirm the homogenous distribution of curcumin throughout the fiber.

Their results have been published in the journal Biomacromolecules.

Source: ScienceDaily

New app solves math equations with phone camera

Photomath is a new smartphone app that allows the user to receive an instant solution to a math expression by simply taking a photo of the printed problem.
The app also provides detailed instructions for finding the solution.

Earlier last week, PhotoMath was launched at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in London. Free of charge, the app is currently available in the iTunes store.

For the past few years, the company Microblink has been working on developing algorithms that have enhanced the accuracy and speed of its text recognition technology. Through the app, Microblink hopes to promote its machine vision technology to other potentially interested companies.

While the app has its limitations, including the inability to recognize handwritten text or compute problems beyond middle school math, the company is focused on continuing to improve its technologies.

Source: TechCrunch

Large sunspot rotates toward and affects Earth

A sunspot facing Earth, called AR2192, has captured the attention of solar observatories and amateur astronauts. With an 80,000-mile diameter that could contain Jupiter, it is the largest observed sunspot since the beginning of the solar cycle in 2008.

Viewed as dark patches in the sun’s photosphere, sunspots cover regions of intense solar magnetism. AR2192 has emitted intense flare activity that resulted in brief, high-frequency radio blackouts around the globe. Blackouts occur when radiation from the solar flares cause ionization effects in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, or ionosphere.

Precautions have been taken to minimize the damaging impacts of the solar flares, including advising aircraft to avoid traveling in certain regions, as well as telling workers at the International Space Station to stay in well-shielded areas. Unfortunately, parts of Sweden have already experienced small power outages.

Source: Discovery News

Nine cases of Ebola have been reported in the U.S.

Last month, Thomas E. Duncan was admitted to the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. He became the first patient in the U.S. to be diagnosed with Ebola, a deadly viral disease.
Since then, more U.S. patients have been diagnosed with Ebola. Nina Pham, one of two nurses that was treating Duncan, became the first person to contract the disease. After being treated in Texas for several days, Pham was transported to a special containment unit at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md.

The other nurse, Amber Vinson, also displayed symptoms of Ebola. She was quickly transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Ga. Emory, as well as the Nebraska Medical Center, have played a role in the recoveries of a few other Ebola patients.

Recently, Dr. Craig Spencer, a doctor in New York City became the ninth case of Ebola in the U.S..

Source: Forbes

Man’s genome from 45,000 years ago is reconstructed

A current paper in Nature showcases the work of a research team that had reconstructed the complete genome of a 45,000-year-old man by using samples from a thighbone.
Originating from the Irtysh River in Siberia, near the Ust’-Ishim settlement, the bone is the oldest modern human fossil ever found outside of Africa and the Near East.

Svante Pääbo, a Swedish biologist, and his team created the genome by overlapping DNA fragments sampled from the bone. From there, they discovered that the owner belonged to a lineage that gave rise to all non-African humans around 60,000 years ago. Also, by comparing the amount of Neanderthal DNA in the ancient man and in living humans, the scientists estimated the rate at which the Neanderthal DNA had fragmented. In turn, they presented strong evidence that early humans had interbred with Neanderthals.

Source: The New York Times

Space simulation of Mars taking place near a volcano

In mid-October, Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) team members began their space travel simulation in a Mars-like habitat on Earth. For eight months, six crew members and two backups will live in a geodesic dome located on the side of the Hawaiian volcano, Mauna Loa. The basaltic terrain and sparse vegetation near Mauna Loa will mirror environmental conditions on Mars.

Inside the dome are two floors. The 878-square-foot ground floor includes a kitchen, bathroom, laboratory, and exercise room. On the 424-square-foot second floor are six small bedrooms. The aim of the simulation is to study the human factors that contribute to astronaut crew function and performance over time. Funded by NASA, the project will be the longest space travel simulation conducted in the U.S.

Source: NBC News