miércoles, 31 de julio de 2013

Making Wires For Drug-Releasing Circuits

ORIGINAL: ACS - Chemical and Engineering News
By Katherine Bourzac
July 31, 2013

Bioengineering: Nanowires loaded with biochemicals can release their cargo in response to an electrical signal
Department: Science & Technology | Collection: Life Sciences
News Channels: Nano SCENE, Materials SCENE, Biological SCENE
Keywords: nanowires, controlled drug release

Glowing Nanowires A flexible nanostorage device (left) consists of a polyimide film coated with gold and chemical-storing nanowires. When a voltage is applied to the film, the nanowires release adenosine triphosphate (right). The area around the wires glows because the released ATP triggers enzymes to produce a bioluminescent molecule. If the researchers turn off the voltage, the wires no longer glow (center). Credit: ACS Nano

Bioengineers have designed chips that release precise doses of drugs when activated by electrical signals. Although these devices promise drug delivery to diseased tissue on cue, they are rigid, which isn’t ideal for an implant. There are more flexible materials that deliver bioactive compounds, but they do so constantly as the material slowly dissolves. Now, researchers at Seoul National University have combined flexibility and controlled release in multifunctional nanowires that discharge stored chemicals in response to an electrical signal (ACS Nano 2013, DOI: 10.1021/nn402082v).

Seunghun Hong, a nanotechnologist at Seoul National University, thinks his team’s nanowires could one day be integrated into implants like hip replacements to release an antibiotic to cure an infection. Or they could be integrated into diagnostic chips to release chemicals without need for pumps.

The researchers made the nanowires to act as electrically controlled chemical storage units. The nanowires have three segments: an electrically active polymer mixed with the chemical to be stored; a nickel segment that allows the researchers to move the wires with a magnet; and a gold or silver section that acts as an electrical contact, so that the wires can be integrated on a chip. When a voltage is applied to the polymer, it expands, releasing the chemicals trapped inside its matrix.

To make the nanowires, Hong and his group used an existing method that relies on an anodized aluminum oxide template. The template has holes 200 nm in diameter and 60 µm deep. The researchers sequentially electroplate the template with the three different materials, first filling the holes with some gold, then some nickel, then some polypyrrole mixed with the chemical of choice. Once filled, the scientists dissolve away the template, freeing the nanowires.

In one test of the wires, Hong’s group chose to store and release adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a chemical that stores energy in biological systems. They dispersed the nanowires into a solution and used magnetic fields to pull the nanowires down to precise locations on a conductive nickel surface. The solution also contained a collection of enzymes that could turn the compound luciferin into a fluorescent molecule in the presence of ATP. When the researchers applied voltage to the nanowires, the area around the wires lit up, indicating the release of ATP.

In another experiment, the researchers placed the nanowires on a conductive gold surface along with the biological motor protein kinesin, which runs on ATP. When they applied a voltage to the surface, the motors moved in response to the released ATP.

Reginald M. Penner, a chemist at the University of California, Irvine, says other groups have made tiny storage tubes out of electrically conductive polymers before, but Hong’s is the first to demonstrate that they can be integrated with electronics to control them. This electronic integration and control, he says, “is absolutely enabling for an implantable drug delivery system.

Chemical & Engineering NewsISSN 0009-2347Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

Salud y Felicidad. Conferencia.

 2 de Agosto 11:30am Auditorio Facultad de Medicina.
Alejandro Jadad Bechara MD

Digest this: Cure for cancer may live in our intestines

ORIGINAL: Medical Xpress

The discovery of Robo1 protein in the intestinal stem cells (depicted in yellow) leads to tolerance of higher doses of chemoradiation for cancer patients. Image courtesy Dr. Wei-Jie Zhou.

Treating a cancerous tumor is like watering a houseplant with a fire hose—too much water kills the plant, just as too much chemotherapy and radiation kills the patient before it kills the tumor.

However, if the patient's gastrointestinal tract remains healthy and functioning, the patient's chances of survival increase exponentially, said Jian-Guo Geng, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Recently, Geng's lab discovered a biological mechanism that preserves the gastrointestinal tracts in mice who were delivered lethal doses of chemotherapy.

The findings, which will appear in the journal Nature, could revolutionize cancer therapy, Geng said.

"It's our belief that this could eventually cure later-staged metastasized cancer. People will not die from cancer, if our prediction is true," said Geng, who emphasized that the findings had not yet been proven in humans. "All tumors from different tissues and organs can be killed by high doses of chemotherapy and radiation, but the current challenge for treating the later-staged metastasized cancer is that you actually kill the patient before you kill the tumor.

"Now you have a way to make a patient tolerate to lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In this way, the later-staged, metastasized cancer can be eradicated by increased doses of chemotherapy and radiation."

Geng's lab found that when certain proteins bind with a specific molecule on intestinal stem cells, it revs intestinal stem cells into overdrive for intestinal regeneration and repair. Stem cells naturally heal damaged organs and tissues, but so-called "normal" amounts of stem cells in the intestine simply cannot keep up with the wreckage left behind by the lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiation required to successfully treat late-stage tumors.

However, the phalanx of extra stem cells protect the intestine and gastrointestinal tract, which means the patient can ingest nutrients, the body can perform other critical functions and the bacterial toxins in the intestine are prevented from entering the blood circulation, Geng said.

These factors could give the patient just enough of an extra edge to survive the stronger doses of chemotherapy and radiation, until the tumor or tumors are eradicated.

In the study, 50-to-75 percent of the mice treated with the molecule survived otherwise lethal doses of chemotherapy. All of the mice that did not receive the molecule died, Geng said.

"If you can keep the gut going, you can keep the patient going longer," Geng said. "Now we have found a way to protect the intestine. The next step is to aim for a 100-percent survival rate in mice who are injected with the molecules and receive lethal doses of chemotherapy and radiation."

Geng's lab has worked with these molecules, called R-spondin 1 and Slit2, for more than a decade. These molecules repair tissue in combination with intestinal stem cells residing in the adult intestine.

Explore further: For the first time, researchers isolate adult stem cells from human intestinal tissue

More information: Induction of intestinal stem cells by R-spondin 1 and Slit2 augments chemoradioprotection, Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature12416

Journal reference: Nature Provided by University of Michigan

On Target: A New Generation of Cancer Therapies

Sarah Byrne
29th July 2013
Targeted therapies are helping boost current cancer treatments. Image from: Flikr

Though much progress has been made in our understanding of cancer, the front-line treatments: surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, have remained remarkably similar for decades. Often effective if used early enough, but seemingly barbaric in their blunt-instrument approach and unpleasant side-effects. Surely modern medicine should be able to provide treatments with a little more precision? That is the principle of so-called ‘targeted therapies’, an active and growing area of cancer research.

The diverse group of diseases we call cancer are characterised by uncontrolled and abnormal cell growth. This process is usually controlled by regulatory proteins called kinases and their receptors, which become overactive or otherwise malfunction in cancer. This is usually due to a problem at the genetic level, i.e. DNA damage. Targeted therapies are normally small-molecule or antibody-based drugs aimed at these kinases, and designed specifically to disable or inhibit them. Better-known examples include transtuzumab (Herceptin) for some types of breast cancer, and imatinib (Gleevec) for chronic myeloid leukaemia.

When targeted therapies started to emerge, many of them were hailed as miracle breakthroughs, the long-awaited cure for this much-feared disease. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Often there are problems such as resistance and off-target effects — due to the complexity of our cellular machinery at the biochemical level, some ‘targeted’ therapies turn out to be not-so-precisely targeted after all. Sometimes there is difficulty in actually getting the drug into the tumour cells and getting it to stay there long enough to be effective. They certainly haven’t revolutionised oncology in the way we might have imagined, or replaced the more traditional treatments.

Does this mean targeted therapies have failed? No, but the success stories are often more small-scale and complex than headlines and news stories demand, and so we don’t tend to hear so much about them. Targeted therapies are, for example, often given alongside conventional treatments, helping to boost their chances of success.

Recent research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has shown that the targeted therapy drug crizotinib improved outcomes in certain types of lung cancer. Some non-small cell lung carcinoma patients have an abnormality in a gene called anaplastic lymphoma Kinase (ALK). Crizotinib targets the abnormal gene product and blocks its activity, causing the tumours to shrink or stop growing. In the Phase III trials, the oral medication was given to patients with advanced disease, following conventional treatment with chemotherapy. [1]

The results might not sound dramatic, but they were significant: patients who received the drug got an extra four months on average before their disease eventually progressed and worsened, compared with those who continued to receive the chemotherapy. The data on survival rates was less clear, but the crizotinib group survived for a median of 20 months from the start of treatment, remarkable considering that the expected survival time with conventional treatment is six months. Their quality of life was better as well, with fewer symptoms. [2]

However, the ALK abnormality is only present in a minority of cases, making the treatment only suitable for around 2-7% of the proportion of lung cancer patients with the non-small-cell variant of the disease. Hardly a sweeping cure for cancer, but this will provide hope all the same for the minority it is relevant for.

Encouraging results published by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center also emerged this month from trials of selumetinib , developed by Astra Zeneca for metastatic uveal melanoma. This rare cancer of the eye has been referred to as an ‘untreatable’ disease, with survival rates virtually unchanged for decades, mostly due to the fact that it does not respond to the chemotherapy drugs used successfully for the more common melanomas of the skin. The initial results were announced at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and were received as evidence of a ‘major breakthrough, with improved survival rates seen for the first time with a new therapy for this disease, and over half of recipients of the drug experiencing tumour shrinkage. [3]

Like crizotinib, selumetinib also targets an abnormal kinase: in this case the MEP protein, which drives tumour growth. In contrast to the ALK abnormality, over 85% of patients with uveal melanoma have the mutation for the abnormal MEP, making the treatment suitable for the majority of cases. Larger-scale trials of selumetinib are needed to confirm the results, but there is good reason to be optimistic.

Both these stories demonstrate how targeted therapies are finding their niches, augmenting traditional treatments and providing a new angle of attack on some of the most difficult-to-treat diseases. They also show the importance of personalised medicine.

The moral of the story, perhaps, is that it’s time to stop waiting for the big miracle breakthrough that cures cancer once and for all — and to start paying attention to the seemingly small discoveries that little by little add to survival rates, life expectancy and quality of life.

Shaw, AT, Kim, D-W, Nakagawa, K, et al. (2013), Crizotinib versus Chemotherapy in Advanced ALK-Positive Lung Cancer. NEJM. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1214886#t=abstract
2013 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Abstract CRA9003. Presented June 1, 2013. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/805169

martes, 30 de julio de 2013

La ciudad de Buenos Aires promueve el empleo "verde"

ORIGINAL: Noticias Ambientales
26/ 07/ 2013 

La Agencia de Protección Ambiental firmó un convenio con la fundación UOCRA 

La Agencia de Protección Ambiental del Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires firmó un convenio con la Fundación UOCRA para llevar adelante un proyecto de educación ambiental laboral que promoverá el empleo verde en la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, y posiciona a la Ciudad como la primera ciudad del país trabajando para una economía verde.

El convenio incluye capacitar a recursos humanos del Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires en la construcción de Normas de Competencias Laboral en Empleo Verde lo que permitirá definir los conocimientos y habilidades que se requieren para el desempeño eficiente de los diferentes empleos verdes en la Ciudad. En este sentido, el convenio también prevé que la Fundación UOCRA capacite los primeros trabajadores verdes de la Ciudad bajo este nuevo paradigma que exige la sustentabilidad.

Estas capacitaciones serán gratuitas para los Ciudadanos de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, ya que son financiadas mediante un premio recibido por la Ciudad otorgado por la Red Metrópolis al Centro de Economía Verde de la Agencia. Las primeras capacitaciones serán para formar instaladores para la provisión de agua caliente sanitaria a través de sistemas solares térmicos y para la provisión de electricidad a través de sistemas solares fotovoltaicos.

Todas estas acciones están enmarcadas bajo las áreas de Educación Ambiental y del Centro de Economía Verde de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires con el objeto de introducir en todos los niveles del sistema educativo, la educación ambiental para la formación de ciudadanos responsables y profesionales comprometidos con el ambiente y entendiendo que la Economía Verde es el vehículo para el desarrollo sustentable.

Según la Organización Mundial del Trabajo, el cambio climático conducirá, a mediano y largo plazo, a un grave trastorno de la actividad económica y social en muchos sectores en todos los continentes. El cambio climático en sí mismo, el proceso de adaptación y los esfuerzos para frenarlo reduciendo las emisiones, tienen repercusiones de gran alcance en el desarrollo económico y social, en los modelos de producción y, por lo tanto, en el empleo, los ingresos y la reducción de la pobreza.

Estas repercusiones implican tanto mayores riesgos como oportunidades para los trabajadores en todos los países, pero en particular para los más vulnerables en los países menos desarrollados. Se estima que el mercado global de productos y servicios ambientales debería aumentar un 100% en los próximos años, alcanzando los 2.740 millones de dólares para el año 2020. La mitad de este mercado se refiere a proyectos de eficiencia energética y el resto a la movilidad sostenible, al suministro de agua segura y de servicios sanitarios y a la gestión de residuos y emisiones.

How much water is on Earth?


If the big bubble burst:

If you put a (big) pin to the larger bubble showing total water, the resulting flow would cover the contiguous United States (lower 48 states) to a depth of about 107 miles.

The drawings below show various blue spheres representing relative amounts of Earth's water in comparison to the size of the Earth. Are you surprised that these water spheres look so small? They are only small in relation to the size of the Earth. These images attempt to show three dimensions, so each sphere represents "volume." Overall, it shows that in comparison to the volume of the globe the amount of water on the planet is very small - and the oceans are only a "thin film" of water on the surface.

Spheres representing all of
  • Earth's water, 
  • Earth's liquid fresh water, and 
  • water in lakes and rivers
The largest sphere represents all of Earth's water, and its diameter is about 860 miles (the distance from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Topeka, Kansas). It would have a volume of about 332,500,000 cubic miles (mi3) (1,386,000,000 cubic kilometers (km3)). The sphere includes all the water in the oceans, ice caps, lakes, and rivers, as well as groundwater, atmospheric water, and even the water in you, your dog, and your tomato plant.

Liquid fresh water

How much of the total water is fresh water, which people and many other life forms need to survive? The blue sphere over Kentucky represents the world's liquid fresh water (groundwater, lakes, swamp water, and rivers). The volume comes to about 2,551,100 mi3 (10,633,450 km3), of which 99 percent is groundwater, much of which is not accessible to humans. The diameter of this sphere is about 169.5 miles (272.8 kilometers).

Water in lakes and rivers

Do you notice that "tiny" bubble over Atlanta, Georgia? That one represents fresh water in all the lakes and rivers on the planet, and most of the water people and life of earth need every day comes from these surface-water sources. The volume of this sphere is about 22,339 mi3 (93,113 km3). The diameter of this sphere is about 34.9 miles (56.2 kilometers). Yes, Lake Michigan looks way bigger than this sphere, but you have to try to imagine a bubble almost 35 miles high—whereas the average depth of Lake Michigan is less than 300 feet (91 meters).

The data used on this page comes from Igor Shiklomanov's estimate of global water distribution, shown in a table below.

Credit: Howard Perlman, USGS; globe illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (©); Adam Nieman.

Data source: Igor Shiklomanov's chapter "World fresh water resources" in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).

Sphere representing all of Earth's water

If you just want an image of all water on, in, and above the Earth, here it is.
One estimate of global water distribution
Water sourceWater volume, in cubic milesWater volume, in cubic kilometersPercent of
Percent of
total water
Oceans, Seas, & Bays321,000,0001,338,000,000--96.54
Ice caps, Glaciers, & Permanent Snow5,773,00024,060,00068.61.74
Soil Moisture3,95916,5000.050.001
Ground Ice & Permafrost71,970300,0000.860.022
Swamp Water2,75211,4700.030.0008
Biological Water2691,1200.0030.0001
Source: Igor Shiklomanov's chapter "World fresh water resources" in Peter H. Gleick (editor), 1993, Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World's Fresh Water Resources (Oxford University Press, New York).
Note: Percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

Your Company Is Only as Good as Your Writing

by Kyle Wiens
July 30, 2013

Good writing: Businesses claim to practice it, support it, and value it. But more often than not, their money isn't where their mouth is. Poor grammar and jargon-riddled writing are rampant. We're great at inventing terms — the instruction manual for my toaster refers to the lever that pops up the toast as the 'Extra-Lift Carriage Control Lever' — but poor at communicating what we actually mean.

We could learn a thing or two about communication from our forefathers. One of the most effective speeches of all time, Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, was only 701 words. Of those, 505 were words of one syllable and 122 had two syllables.

Great leaders consider communication a core competence, so why don't more businesses?
Manufacturers spend millions on safety training to get people to wear hard hats, but spend very little to make sure their safety critical work instructions are written clearly.

That's not good enough. Effective writing must be a company-wide endeavor.

If my marketer misses a typo while writing about a product, I want my packaging staff to catch it before the design gets sent to print. If my technicians don't capitalize a tool's name consistently, I'd hope my videographer notices the error when he glances at the report on their desks. When I'm writing an essay, I always ask my software engineers for constructive feedback. (I'm not too proud to admit that many of them are better writers than I.)

Over the years, I've worked hard to foster an atmosphere where everyone has the right to critique, question, and suggest. Just because most team members don't have "professional writer" in their job descriptions doesn't mean writing is off limits to them. Everyone here is a writer.

In my experience, the practice of good, collaborative writing makes the difference between great business and bad business — a sale or no sale.

Last year, I kicked up a bit of a stir 'round these parts when I wrote "I Won't Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here's Why." I confidently declared myself a "grammar stickler," unwilling to hire qualified applicants if they couldn't pass a basic grammar test.

After the article was published, I heard back from a lot of different people. Some disagreed. One participant in a New York Times debate exclaimed that my "requirements that viable candidates write with Strunk and White on their minds are highly questionable." Others wholeheartedly shared my convictions. The range of feedback is to be expected. After all, the grammar debate tends to be divisive.

The feedback did prove one thing: It's not easy to talk about writing. Certainly not in business. Writing, even writing in public arenas, is always personal. It exposes the writer's ideas and ability (or inability) to navigate language. Writing is vulnerability.

Plus — and this is the frustrating part — there is no right way to write. Even the most basic rules are fuzzy. Prepositions aren't something you should end a sentence with. You should never start a sentence with "because." Why not? Because. Sentence fragments are unforgivable. Unless they're not.

We like to think that we learned everything there is to know about grammar in our 10th grade English classes, but the conventions are constantly changing. The standards shift. That makes writing hard — and difficult to talk about.

Writing is a tricky balancing act, juggling dozens of nebulous constraints. Writers have to think about audience, and about style, and about tone — factors that are hard to anchor down. In business, writing is inextricably tied to company identity: writers have to think about what a company stands for, where it's going, and how that company should be presented to the public. Difficult considerations.

I've found that topics that are the most uncomfortable are usually the ones that need the most discussion. Writing is one of them. It's a conversation that is crucial to have — with everyone.

For the last 10 years, iFixit has been writing and hosting free, open source repair manuals for every thing. We weren't always as good at it as we are now. Like many publishers, we didn't have an open dialogue about what we'd written — not within the company and not with the public. And, in our early years, our writing suffered for it. In fact, some of our initial instructions led users astray — resulting in broken computers and cameras and cell phones. That was our fault, and we knew it.

But we kept writing. And we rewrote. And we talked about writing with everyone.

We started collecting tips:  
  • Keep sentences short. 
  • Don't verb nouns. 
  • Using 'you' makes you seem friendlier. 
Our list grew fast. Together, we worked to nail down just how iFixit sounds. Writing — and talking about writing — with each other gave us a cohesive voice.

Soon, we realized we'd written a book. And we realized that it would be an incredible shame to keep it to ourselves. Today, since so many HBR readers wrote to us asking about iFixit's writing process, I have that handbook to share with you.

Our free Tech Writing Handbook is the culmination of years of practice, of continually sharing our opinions and perspectives. We found out that writing has unintentional consequences: it's revelatory. The more you write, the more you learn about yourself. Writing about our company, about our mission, and about our users helped us understand them better. It helped us understand our vision.

If good writing is important to you and your company (as it should be), feel free to share our book with your writers (which should be each and every member of your company). Crib from it, revise it, repurpose it. Or better yet, write your own — because you can't all be on the same page if it's a blank page.

More blog posts by Kyle Wiens
More on: Communication, Organizational culture

Kyle Wiens

Kyle Wiens is CEO of iFixit, the largest online repair community, as well as founder of Dozuki, a software company dedicated to helping manufacturers publish amazing documentation.

Secret DARPA Mind Control Project Revealed: Leaked Document

ORIGINAL: Activist Post
July 29, 2013

From MASHABLE. Photo courtesy of iStockphoto, ktsimage ?

Whistleblower Reveals Military Mind Control Project At Major University

What if the government could change people's moral beliefs or stop political dissent through remote control of people's brains?

Sounds like science fiction, right? Well, a leaked document reveals that the US government, through DARPA research, is very close to accomplishing this.

Activist Post was recently contacted by an anonymous whistleblower who worked on a secret ongoing mind-control project for DARPA. The aim of the program is to remotely disrupt political dissent and extremism by employing "Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation" (TMS) in tandem with sophisticated propaganda based on this technology. TMS stimulates the temporal lobe of the brain with electromagnetic fields.

The program, conducted by The Center for Strategic Communication, is based at Arizona State University. The DARPA funding for this project can be confirmed on the ASU website here. The head of the project, Steve Corman, has worked extensively in the area of strategic communication as it applies to terrorism and "extremism" - or what could be called "the war of ideas."

Corman's latest project Narrating The Exit From Afghanistan and his many presentations make it quite obvious that the mission is to shape the narrative and literally change people's minds. Lest one believe it will be contained to overseas extremists, we should keep in mind that the word extremist is increasingly used domestically. The dissenters of yesterday could easily become the terrorist sympathizers and supporters of political violence tomorrow.

This DARPA research brings about many ethical questions and dilemmas. Mainly, this research aims to literally induce or disrupt the operation of narratives within the brain. In other words, this research aims to stop individuals from thinking certain thoughts and make others believe things they normally would not believe. This research has tremendous interrogation possibilities and could potentially be used to more successfully spread propaganda or stop political upheaval to an unsuspecting public.

This research is being conducted by The Center for Strategic Communication at ASU and is entitled “Toward Narrative Disruptors and Inductors: Mapping the Narrative Comprehension Network and its Persuasive Effects” A detailed overview of the project can be found in the document below. Highlights include:

In phase 3 of the research, the research group will “selectively alter aspects of narrative structure and brain functions via Transcranial Magnetic Simulation (TMS) to induce or disrupt selected features of narrative processing.” (Page 16, emphasis added)

TMS is a very powerful tool used to impair the brain functioning of individuals. See the videos below for a brief demonstration of the effects of TMS.

Once the research group determines which parts of the brain are associated with cognitive reasoning and narrative comprehension, they will be attempt to impair those sections in order to “create a fundamental basis for understanding how to disrupt or enhance aspects of narrative structure and/or brain functioning to minimize or maximize persuasive effects on subject proclivity to engage in political violence.” (Page 23)

Once it is determined that disruption of certain portions of the brain can enhance persuasive messaging, individuals can be persuaded to do things they normally would not do and believe things they normally would not believe. This could include something as simple as telling a closely guarded secret, to believing in government propaganda, or even committing a violent act. The group writes on page 26, “once we have produced a narrative comprehension model [i.e., how individuals comprehend stories and persuasive messages], end users [aka the government] will understand how to activate known neural networks (e.g., working memory or attention) and positive behavioral outcome (e.g., nonviolent actions) nodes with strategic communication messages as a means to reduce incidences of political violence in contested populations.” The group will investigate “possibilities for literally disrupting the activity of the NCN [narrative comprehension network] through Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.” (page 30) [text added]

The group is so confident that they will be able to induce or disrupt the operations of narratives in the brain, that they say on page 26 that the research “offers the capability to induce or disrupt the operation of narratives in the brain, and develops the capability to induce narrative validity [i.e., the believability of a particular narrative/message], transportation [i.e., the ability to be engaged by a narrative], and integration [i.e., associating a particular narrative with a larger, more culturally specific narrative] with certainty.” [text added]

The group gives the following example of this projects usefulness: “If it is the case that activation in one particular neural network enables people to connect personal narrative to master narratives [i.e., cultural narratives], by disrupting activity in that brain area, we should be able to selectively impair that specific aspect of narrative processing while holding other meaning making processes constant, effectively creating a ‘narrative disruptor.’ Not only would this be an important finding in the science of neural networks and narrative persuasion, but would also have considerably practical and strategic importance.” (page 40) [text added]

Essentially, the research aims to literally disrupt how people think and comprehend ideas and messages.

Further, and perhaps even more terrifying, on page 40, the group writes, “Mechanical disruptions of narrative processing may be, ultimately, replicated in through targeted strategic communication campaigns that approximate the narrative disruptions induced via magnetic stimulation.” So, after figuring out which parts of the brain are activated by particular persuasive messages and propaganda, the government can test out messages that only activate particular portions of the brain and not others, in order to persuade individuals to believe or not believe something. Essentially, they are attempting to modify brain functioning without TMS, and only words. One can only imagine the strategies the government could use with this technology. They could make the public believe almost anything that suits their needs. It could literally lead to mass brainwashing. But what does this mean, practically? It means that if this research succeeds, the government will be able to modify how one personally thinks. They could strap you in a chair, put a machine to your head, turn off parts of your brain, introduce a persuasive message, and make you believe it.

Further, through extensive research, they may be able to replicate the machine’s brain disrupting functioning simply through carefully crafted and researched persuasive messages and propaganda. They can use brain imaging to determine which portions of the brain are activated when a particular message is presented to an individual, and if the “right” portions are activated, they know the message will circumvent one’s mental reasoning and lead to almost automatic acceptance. With enough data, the government could spread propaganda through the media that people will almost automatically believe, whether it is true or not.

In terms of interrogation possibilities, Transcranical Magnetic Stimulation can be forced upon individuals to 
  • make them believe certain things, 
  • say certain things, and 
  • perhaps admit to acts they did not actually commit (as the TMS can induce narrative validity), or commit acts they normally would not commit.
The government is literally trying to brainwash the public. This is not science fiction. Technology has made it possible to induce and disrupt cognitive functioning in individuals. In the future, your thoughts may not be your own, but ones that have been implanted into your brain through exceedingly successful and validated propaganda.

Meeting notes indicate concern about how the project will be perceived, particularly the focus on the Christian/Muslim element.

We encourage you to embed these documents on your own website or blog and share them with everyone you know. Page numbers listed above are based on Scribd conversion below; enter the page number you wish to view in the Scribd search box.

Toward Narrative Disruptors and Inductors: Mapping the Narrative Comprehension Network and its Persuasive Effects

Milan In Italy Hit by Tornado- Again!

by Dan Satterfield
30 July 2013 

This is from today in Milan. They were also hit last May by a large tornado.

and more video of the twister and the aftermath here:

Artificial Intelligence Is the Most Important Technology of the Future

ORIGINAL: Maria Konovalenko Blog
Maria Konovalenko
July 30, 2013 · 16:36

Artificial Intelligence is a set of tools that are driving forward key parts of the futurist agenda, sometimes at a rapid clip. The last few years have seen a slew of surprising advances
  • the IBM supercomputer Watson, which beat two champions of Jeopardy!; 
  • self-driving cars that have logged over 300,000 accident-free miles and are officially legal in three states; and 
  • statistical learning techniques are conducting pattern recognition on complex data sets from consumer interests to trillions of images. 
In this post, I’ll bring you up to speed on what is happening in AI today, and talk about potential future applications. Any brief overview of AI will be necessarily incomplete, but I’ll be describing a few of the most exciting items.

The key applications of Artificial Intelligence are in any area that involves more data than humans can handle on our own, but which involves decisions simple enough that an AI can get somewhere with it. Big data, lots of little rote operations that add up to something useful. An example is image recognition; by doing rigorous, repetitive, low-level calculations on image features, we now have services like Google Goggles, where you take an image of something, say a landmark, and Google tries to recognize what it is. Services like these are the first stirrings of Augmented Reality (AR).

It’s easy to see how this kind of image recognition can be applied to repetitive tasks in biological research. One such difficult task is in brain mapping, an area that underlies dozens of transhumanist goals. The leader in this area is Sebastian Seung at MIT, who develops software to automatically determine the shape of neurons and locate synapses. Seung developed a fundamentally new kind of computer vision for automating work towards building connectomes, which detail the connections between all neurons. These are a key step to building computers that simulate the human brain.

As an example of how difficult it is to build a connectome without AI, consider the case of the flatworm, C. elegans, the only completed connectome to date. Although electron microscopy was used to exhaustively map the brain of this flatworm in the 1970s and 80s, it took more than a decade of work to piece this data into a full map of the flatworm’s brain. This is despite that brain containing just 7000 connections between 300 neurons. By comparison, the human brain contains 100 trillion connections between 100 billion neurons. Without sophisticated AI, mapping it will be hopeless.

There’s another closely related area that depends on AI to make progress; cognitive prostheses. These are brain implants that can perform the role of a part of the brain that has been damaged. Imagine a prosthesis that restores crucial memories to Alzheimer’s patients. The feasibility of a prosthesis of the hippocampus, part of the brain responsible for memory, was proven recently by Theodore Berger at the University of Southern California. A rat with its hippocampus chemically disabled was able to form new memories with the aid of an implant.

The way these implants are built is by carefully recording the neural signals of the brain and making a device that mimics the way they work. The device itself uses an artificial neural network, which Berger calls a High-density Hippocampal Neuron Network Processor. Painstaking observation of the brain region in question is needed to build a model detailed enough to stand in for the original. Without neural network techniques (a subcategory of AI) and abundant computing power, this approach would never work.

Bringing the overview back to more everyday tech, consider all the AI that will be required to make the vision of Augmented Reality mature. AR, as exemplified by Google Glass, uses computer glasses to overlay graphics on the real world. For the tech to work, it needs to quickly analyze what the viewer is seeing and generate graphics that provide useful information. To be useful, the glasses have to be able to identify complex objects from any direction, under any lighting conditions, no matter the weather. To be useful to a driver, for instance, the glasses would need to identify roads and landmarks faster and more effectively than is enabled by any current technology. AR is not there yet, but probably will be within the next ten years. All of this falls into the category of advances in computer vision, part of AI.

Finally, let’s consider some of the recent advances in building AI scientists. In 2009, Adam” became the first robot to discover new scientific knowledge, having to do with the genetics of yeast. The robot, which consists of a small room filled with experimental equipment connected to a computer, came up with its’ own hypothesis and tested it. Though the context and the experiment were simple, this milestone points to a new world of robotic possibilities. This is where the intersection between AI and other transhumanist areas, such as life extension research, could become profound.

Many experiments in life science and biochemistry require a great deal of trial and error. Certain experiments are already automated with robotics, but what about computers that formulate and test their own hypotheses? Making this feasible would require the computer to understand a great deal of common sense knowledge, as well as specialized knowledge about the subject area. Consider a robot scientist like Adam with the object-level knowledge of the Jeopardy!-winning Watson supercomputer. This could be built today in theory, but it will probably be a few years before anything like it is built in practice. Once it is, it’s difficult to say what the scientific returns could be, but they could be substantial. We’ll just have to build it and find out.

That concludes this brief overview. There are many other interesting trends in AI, but machine vision, cognitive prostheses, and robotic scientists are among the most interesting, and relevant to futurist goals.

I would like to thank Michael Anissimov, a fellow transhumanist and author of the Accelerating Future blog, for contributing this piece.

domingo, 28 de julio de 2013

Teens seek invention protection

March 20, 2013

Increasingly, young researchers seek patents to defend their innovations against theft
Credit: Stuart Burdford / iStock Photo
Naomi Chetan Shah didn’t think much about the air inside her Portland, Ore., home until she was 11. Then the sixth grader began to wonder why her father and brother always had watery eyes and runny noses. They suffered all year. That seemed to rule out seasonal allergies often caused by the pollen from blooming flowers, trees, grasses and weeds.

It took Naomi until high school to sleuth out what caused her family’s health problems. She even invented a computer program to help others diagnose similar problems. Her project earned her a spot as a finalist in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search (STS). This premier research competition is for students in their last year of high school. The Society for Science & the Public (which also publishes Science News for Kids) developed and runs the prestigious science competition.

While Naomi, now 17, hopes her computer program can help others, she doesn’t want anyone to steal her invention either. So she’s seeking to patent it. Governments offer patents for new inventions. These can include new processes, devices, substances or even plant varieties. Anyone who develops such a novelty can submit an application to the government.


What is a patent?
In the United States, the Patent and Trademark Office reviews these applications. If this agency does grant Naomi a patent, it will give her the legal right to keep anyone else from making, using or selling her invention in the United States.

For a young inventor, a patent attests that his or her achievement is unprecedented, says John F. Ritter. He is a patent lawyer in New Jersey, and directs Princeton University’s Office of Technology Licensing.

While adult engineers, scientists and other inventors submit most patent applications, there is no age limit. Many young inventors seek patents to protect their inventions, also known as “intellectual property.” The Patent Office has issued at least one patent to a 5-year-old!

This year, 17 of the INTEL STS semifinalists and finalists, including Naomi, either have applied for a patent or have already received one. Additionally, another 20 semifinalists and finalists plan to seek a patent on their inventions.
Naomi Shah investigated how pollutants in indoor air can trigger allergy symptoms, impacting people’s airways — and ability to breathe. Credit: Chris Ayers Photography/SSP

Their experiences suggest that all students who invent something, even if they don’t participate in a science fair, should at least know about patents. And if they are interested in obtaining a patent, they should apply as early as possible!

Scents and sensibility

Naomi credits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for launching her six-year investigation into indoor air. Indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times higher than outdoor levels, according to the agency. That is significant, since most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors. Still, Naomi was surprised to learn that very little research had been conducted on the health risks of indoor air pollution.

So starting in middle school, she learned how to collect air samples. Then, she worked with chemists at nearby Portland State University to analyze those samples. She also learned to measure how well the lung inhales and exhales while we breathe.

By high school, Naomi had collected enough data to identify the source of the respiratory problems that afflicted her father and brother. As part of her family’s Indian heritage, they regularly burned incense and scented candles. That released tiny irritating particles into the air. When the family — at Naomi’s recommendation — burned fewer of these products, the girl’s brother and father suffered less.

The young researcher went on to recruit more people for testing. Naomi also sampled the air inside their homes, schools and workplaces. Her sleuthing revealed several types of air pollutants known to trigger allergy symptoms. These included a family of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs include toluene, xylene and styrene, used in building materials, paints, furniture and cleaners. Naomi so far has amassed more than 4 million air samples. She has also collected lung health data from more than 100 volunteers.

While in tenth grade at Portland’s Sunset High School, Naomi wrote a computer program to process her data. One year later, she presented this computer program at science fairs and competitions, pointing out its potential use in predicting how indoor air can affect lung health.

Act fast

Naomi realized she should patent her invention if she was going to make her computer program publicly available. With her father’s help, she began to investigate how to do that. She soon learned it was too late. Presenting her invention at science competitions is a form of publishing, she learned. And U.S. patent law says that once inventors publish, or make public, their inventions, they have only 12 months to start the patent application process. Naomi had missed out.

But all was not lost. By modifying her computer program — making it different, and therefore new — she could seek a patent on the revised version.

INTEL STS finalist Catherine Wong was quicker to apply. Soon after Catherine began showing her first invention at science fairs, one of her teachers at Morristown High School in New Jersey recommended that she think about patenting it. For $125, she was able to protect two of her inventions for a year with what are called provisional patents. These are essentially temporary patents. She followed up by applying for a much more expensive standard patent on one of her inventions.

Catherine Wong learned how to build electronic circuits by reading a book. She has created two wireless devices to help doctors and is attempting to patent one of them. Credit: Patrick Thornton/SSP

Catherine, now 17, credits an experience she had while in seventh grade for inspiring the project that landed her in the INTEL STS finals. While visiting a museum exhibit in New York City, called Design for the Other 90%, Catherine learned that most people in the world have little or no access to the products and services available to people in the United States and other industrialized nations. Nearly half of the world has no dependable access to food, clean water or housing.


Patent advice from teen inventors

Three years later, Wong enrolled in a high school research science class. While investigating potential projects, she learned that more and more of the world’s people were getting mobile phones. (Today, more than 6 billion people have them!) Catherine decided to create a new type of stethoscope based on the popular handheld communication device.

Such an invention could bring medical help to people living in remote areas with no doctors. The device would work like a regular stethoscope that a doctor places on your chest or back to listen to your heart and lungs. But the device would also work with a cell phone, amplifying the sound enough for a doctor on the other end of the line to hear it clearly, Catherine explains. That way, doctors could diagnose illnesses in faraway patients.

Catherine relied on a book entitled, Make: Electronics, for guidance on how to create the circuits in her “wireless stethoscope.” Once completed, the device was roughly the size of a bar of soap. And what will a doctor hear when it is used? The sound is “much like the drumbeat of your pulse against your ears after a run,” Catherine says.

More recently, Catherine built a second, related device to amplify and record the heart’s electrical activity. It creates a digital record of someone’s heart rate. Both inventions wirelessly transmit the data they pick up from the body to nearby mobile phones.

When time came to apply for a patent for her wireless stethoscope, Catherine quickly learned it could cost tens of thousands of dollars to get needed help from lawyers. Rather than be discouraged, she called roughly 10 patent lawyers before finding a firm that could help her for a more affordable price. Luckily for Catherine, her parents helped by paying the still steep $5,000 bill.

Catherine says that getting her earlier, provisional patent proved useful when the time came to file for a standard patent. “Writing up a provisional patent forces you to break down exactly what you’ve done — the methods, what the benefits are — and to really begin to examine if it is something that is patentable,” she explains.

Avoiding lawyer’s fees

Alison Dana Bick, 19, took a different path to patenting. She invented a way to test for bacterial contamination in drinking water, using common household materials. Rather than apply for a provisional patent, however, Bick went for the whole enchilada. And by filing her own application, she avoided paying expensive fees to lawyers.

It was just that sort of self-reliance that inspired Bick’s invention.
Alison Dana Bick invented a low-cost system to test whether drinking water is contaminated. It uses simple household items, such as cell phones, light and a plastic bag. Credit: Alison Dana Bick

When she was in eighth grade, a major storm hit her hometown of Short Hills, N.J. Afterward, health officials warned the community’s water supply might not be safe to drink. But was it polluted? Bick invented a simple system to evaluate water contamination. It uses a cell phone’s camera, a light (even the light from a second cell phone) and a plastic bag.
  1. First, you fill the bag with water and shine a bright light on it
  2. Next, you take a photo of it. 
  3. Finally, a computer program Bick developed analyzes the photo to determine the concentration of fecal coliform bacteria
These germs point to sewage, which can often taint water following major storms. The project won Bick, now in her second year at Princeton University, a spot as a finalist in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search.

Bick spent the summer before her final year of high school preparing her patent application. “I want to do research for a living and I thought it would be a great experience to patent this device,” she explains. She relied mainly on information she found online and in a book called Patent It Yourself. She spent less than $200 to file her patent. With its help, and a lot of patience, she has successfully patented her invention.

Of course, inventors don’t have to file for a patent in the country in which they live, notes Haejun “Brian” Cho. The high school senior at Milton Academy, in Milton, Mass., spent the summer after tenth grade in South Korea. There, Brian performed research working with Eric Choi. He’s a materials scientist, mechanical engineer — and family friend. From a laboratory in his apartment, Choi works on a variety of projects, including developing new soaps, using enzymes. Enzymes can remove the pore-blocking oils your skin naturally produces. While working with Choi, Brian invented a process that uses enzymes to replace some of the chemicals used in conventional soaps.

A major challenge is “keeping the enzymes active until they are applied,” explains Brian. That’s because enzymes can easily break down in response to changes in pH or temperature. The teen’s solution was to use microscopic spheres perforated with even tinier holes. Brian first fills the microspheres with the enzyme. Then he coats the little capsules with silicone oil to protect against changes in the environment. After the spheres are blended into soap, the silicone washes away only once it comes into contact with water. That way, the soap releases the enzyme just as you start washing.

With Choi’s assistance, Brian filed for a South Korean patent. It cost approximately $50 and took just six months to receive. Meanwhile, Brian has won a semifinalist’s slot at the 2013 INTEL STS competition for entirely different research into the materials that remain after the supernova explosion of massive stars.

Firm help

Pavan N. Mehrotra, 18, a finalist in the 2013 INTEL STS competition, also expects to receive a patent. Unlike the other teens we have met so far, Mehrotra didn’t have to even apply. The company where he interned applied for him.
Captain of his school’s varsity soccer team, California native Pavan Mehrotra spent last summer working in a corporate lab where he perfected a fuel cell design. It is now being patented. Credit: P. Mehrotra

Mehrotra lives in Simi Valley, Calif., and attends the Sierra Canyon School in nearby Chatsworth. After his junior year of high school, Mehrotra landed a summer internship with nearby Teledyne Scientific & Imaging. Its researchers develop high technology products, including fuel cells. Fuel cells work by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. The technology has interested Mehrotra since he was in middle school.

As an intern — or student worker given the opportunity to learn and practice professional skills — Mehrotra was assigned to a project seeking to merge two types of fuel cells. One was a microbial fuel cell. It uses yeast and sugar to make electricity. But such fuel cells can’t make that much power by themselves, Mehrotra explains. They generate much more electricity when combined with a second fuel cell, one specifically designed to run on alcohol. Luckily, the yeast in the first fuel cell also makes alcohol.

However, merging the two types of fuel cells created problems. In the first fuel cell, the fermenting yeast didn’t just make alcohol, but other byproducts too. Those wastes fouled an expensive catalyst — or substance that speeds up chemical reactions — in the second fuel cell. That dramatically reduced how much electricity the combined fuel cells would make. Luckily, Mehrotra discovered a solution.

He found inspiration for it in the work he was doing on another Teledyne project. It used special membranes with super-tiny holes in them to remove the salt from seawater. Mehrotra reasoned that such membranes could do work in the combined fuel cell too. They would do double-duty, by allowing the alcohol to pass from the first fuel cell to the second, but blocking any of the bothersome byproducts. Through trial and error, the teen eventually discovered what size holes — or pores — would work best in the membrane.

Mehrotra’s mentor at the company, Rahul Ganguli, helped the teen determine that his solution was truly novel. The company applied to patent the invention, although Mehrotra didn’t know that until after returning to school. Teledyne envisions that the fuel cell will someday generate emergency power for soldiers. In time, it may even power consumer devices.
Pavan Mehrotra created this fuel cell. Devices based on its design may one day generate emergency power for U.S. soldiers. Credit: P. Mehrotra

Ritter, the patent attorney at Princeton, notes that most corporations make their employees (including interns) give up their rights to anything they invent at work. So Mehrotra won’t get any money — called royalties — from companies using the patent. Still, the teen is grateful that Teledyne let him enter his invention in the INTEL STS competition.

Cred — and credit

Adults take teen researchers more seriously if they are seeking to patent their inventions, note the students interviewed for this story. Patents help adults look past the fact that “you’re just a high school student,” Catherine Wong explains. Indeed, her patent application helped establish her credibility with a University of Michigan researcher. She is currently working with him to improve her mobile cardiac device.

Patents also help discourage grown-ups from thinking a teen project addresses “a trivial problem or it’s easily stealable, Catherine continues. And even a provisional patent can protect work from being copied by others researchers who might have heard a student talk about his or her invention, she adds. Adds Naomi Shah: Having a patent application suggests that there are good reasons to have confidence in your data and claims.

Finally, a patent is a surefire way of standing out from other students when applying to college. Bick says she is “sure it definitely helped” her get into Princeton University. Indeed, the 2013 INTEL STS finalists interviewed for this article already have won admission to top-tier schools, including Harvard and Stanford universities. As of this writing, none has formally accepted an offer.

Power Words

catalyst A substance that increases the speed of a chemical reaction.

enzymes Substances in plants and animals that increase the speed of biochemical reactions. For example, enzymes in your stomach help break down the food you eat.

fecal coliform bacteria Microbes present in the feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. These germs are present in sewage, which can contaminate drinking water during storms.

fuel cell A device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. The most common fuel is hydrogen, which emits only water vapor as a byproduct.

intellectual property An idea, method, process or written work that you have invented or created — and therefore that you initially own.

membrane A thin sheet of material that allows some substances to pass through it.

microbial fuel cell A device that relies on microbes to initiate a chemical reaction to generate electricity. These devices can use waste materials, including sewage and manure, to produce energy cleanly.

patent A legal document that gives inventors control over how their inventions — including devices, machines, materials, processes and substances — are made, used and sold for a set period of time. Currently, this is 20 years from the date you first file for the patent. The U.S. government only grants patents to inventions shown to be unique.

patent claim Claims are the part of the patent application where the inventor defines his or her invention for legal purposes.

patent pending Anyone who has filed for a provisional or standard patent can legally say they have a patent pending.

provisional patent A relatively quick, inexpensive and simple initial U.S. patent application that establishes when you initially filed for your patent. You must file for a standard patent before a year is up to fully protect your invention.

royalty A payment made in exchange for the use of a patented invention.

U.S. Patent Office The federal government agency in charge of U.S. patents.

volatile organic compounds Chemicals whose properties make them liable to escape into the air. They are often chemicals that you can smell in the air.

Word Find (click here to print puzzle)

Floppy Cells

ORIGINAL: The Scientist
By Kate Yandell
July 24, 2013

Cell division in L-forms—bacterial variants that have no cell walls—could shed light on how primitive life forms replicated.

PINCH HITTING: When a walled Bacillus subtilis cell divides, complicated cellular machinery segregates its contents and builds a new peptidoglycan wall across its center (1) before the bacterium splits into two daughter cells (2). L-form bacteria, which don’t have cell walls, dispense with the normal replication methods, at least in some cases. Instead, L-forms produce extra cell membrane and extra chromosomes and become large and irregularly shaped (3). Biomechanical forces cause smaller cells to break off through blebbing (4) or tubulation (5).
The paper
R. Mercier et al., “Excess membrane synthesis drives a primitive mode of cell proliferation,” Cell, 152:997-1007, 2013.

Bacterial cells usually divide in an orderly fashion, building new cell walls across their centers before they separate. But recent research suggests that cell division for bacterial L-forms, which lack a cell wall, is a haphazard affair—possibly more reminiscent of primitive cell replication than of modern-day bacterial reproduction.

Many bacterial species, ranging from the harmless soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis to the pathogenic Listeria monocytogenes, have L-forms. They are pared-down versions of ordinary cells of their species, containing nearly the same genes but lacking the exterior peptidoglycan coating that is a defining bacterial trait.

Jeff Errington, a cell and molecular biologist at Newcastle University in the U.K., initially turned to L-form bacteria several years ago as a simpler model for studying cell division in bacteria. In particular, he wanted to understand the role of cytoskeletal proteins in helping the cell membrane constrict during division. Instead, “what we realized is that they don’t use that machinery at all,” he said.

In a 2009 study, Errington and colleagues showed that they could create proliferating B. subtilis L-forms by turning off genes important for cell-wall synthesis and introducing a single mutation in a gene called IspA, a mutation that appeared to protect the cell from death in the absence of its wall (Nature, 457:849-54).

In a new study of the genes involved, the researchers depleted the bacterium’s cell wall enzymatically, without altering the genome—except for introducing the protective IspA mutation. Most cells failed to grow, but one cell reproduced both in the walled and L-form states, and the scientists sequenced its genome to fish for the gene mutations responsible for its survival. One mutation, located upstream of the genes AccA and AccD, which are involved in fatty-acid synthesis, caused cells to grow excess lipid membrane. As the ratio of membrane area to cell volume rose, the investigators hypothesized, biomechanical forces caused parts of the cell to shear off into progeny, taking with them copies of the complete genome that L-form cells have in reserve.

This uncomplicated reproduction process reminded Errington of the lipid vesicle experiments biologists perform to study the origins of life. L-forms’ division supports the idea that primitive cells could have divided without evolving the intricate processes most cells rely on today. “This may resemble the mechanisms that [were] there before a more stable cell wall,” said Martin Loessner, a microbiologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who also studies L-forms. But he adds that L-forms of various species may have different reproduction strategies—dividing symmetrically, forming vesicle “daughter cells” in their interiors and then releasing them, or even using limited cellular division machinery.

Errington is also interested in studying the role that these primitive forms could play in disease and antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics that attack the cell wall can cause bacteria to convert into L-forms, and Errington suspects this conversion could provide a temporary escape hatch for pathogens, allowing them to dodge drugs and the immune system. It’s a problem that’s “very interesting and potentially important” to medicine, he says.

A basis for biofuels: making a difference today

ORIGINAL: ScienceOmega
by Lars Peter Lindfors
15 July 2013

The number one priority is to develop a regulatory framework that offers the industry long-term continuity beyond 2020 in areas such as biomandated content.
Lars Peter Lindfors

A more level playing field is required if the true potential of biofuels is to be realised, argues Lars Peter Lindfors, Senior Vice President of Technology at Neste Oil Corporation

Biofuels have already helped the world achieve a tangible reduction in emissions. As global CO2 emissions are forecast to rise by as much as 50 per cent over the next 25 years, however, the current state of play in the biofuel industry will need to see some major changes. Given the scale of the investments required, the industry needs a clear and unambiguous legislative framework, together with a consistent level of political commitment to that framework.

Achieving international consensus has always been a challenge, and it is perhaps, therefore, surprising that relatively few today question the importance of sustainability (particularly over the long term), or the need to combat critical phenomena such as global warming. It is only when one looks at what is being done in the short term and how policy is being implemented at national, regional, and international level that the cracks in this consensus become apparent. Good intentions are too often being muddied by conflicting decisions and even by that long-term bane of international trade, protectionism.

Nevertheless, the world has come a long way, especially since the original Kyoto Protocol. Numerous countries have adopted mandated bio-content requirements for traffic fuels, for example. Considerable technological progress has also been made, in terms of new refining processes, new types of feedstock, and completely new energy sources. While some of these developments will be important for society two or three decades from now, the ones that call for the most attention are those that can help us start making a difference today.

Making more of a difference today The European experience of biofuels, and advanced biofuels in particular, such as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) – in other words pure hydrocarbons produced from renewable feedstock – are a good case in point. Biofuels offer the most direct route available today for reducing traffic-related emissions of CO2 and are already widely available. A recent report from the European Commission has estimated that the EU has cut this category of emissions by 25.5 million tons so far through using these fuels. They also have the potential to reduce many countries’ dependence on imported oil.

Compared to longer-term options such as LPG, electricity or hydrogen, biofuels do not call for the roll-out of a completely new level of expensive infrastructure and also sidestep the ‘chicken or egg’ dilemma that always goes with this type of investment in terms of which needs to come first: new infrastructure or new vehicles to use the energy that it will make available.

In fact, HVO takes this advantage much further – not only because it can be used in existing automotive and aircraft engines and fuel distribution systems, such as tanks and pipelines, without the need for any modifications, but because it can be used as a simple, drop-in component for the diesel pool with no blending limits, without compromising fuel quality. The technology also already exists to produce this type of fuel from a growing range of different inputs, including waste, residues, and other non-food materials, but the number of producers using it is still small.

Unfortunately, these types of advanced biofuels continue to face a number of challenges, not only in the EU but also in North America. Despite the introduction of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive and Fuel Quality Directive, for example, a true internal market for biofuels has yet to emerge and a number of member states actively discriminate against advanced biofuels in favour of fuel produced by less advanced and significantly more limited FAME technology, for example. The US, for its part, has instituted separate requirements for domestic and imported biofuels that also put advanced biofuels at something of a competitive disadvantage.

In the case of Europe, some countries are yet to approve HVO as a biofuel or have imposed production quotas or restrictions on the feedstock that can be used to produce it. As a result of these and other trade barriers, it has been estimated that less than half of the total EU market for biofuels can as yet benefit from what HVO-based renewable diesel has to offer, severely undermining true competition in the process.

Biofuels offer the most direct route available today for reducing traffic-related emissions of CO2 and are already widely available.

What’s needed? The future success of the biofuels industry will depend on a number of factors and learning experiences. No easy challenge, it must be admitted, but a necessary one all the same.

The number one priority is to develop a regulatory framework that offers the industry long-term continuity beyond 2020 in areas such as biomandated content. The latter is a virtual necessity, given the fact that the raw materials required to produce biofuels are likely to remain more expensive than crude oil for the foreseeable future. Without this, industry will be unable – and ultimately unwilling – to make the type of investments needed, not only in capacity based on the best existing technology but also in new conversion technologies that can make use of a broad range of globally available feedstock.

Legislation also needs to become technology-neutral and focus on how best to achieve the objective benefits that biofuels can deliver, in terms of fuel quality and reduced emissions of CO2 and other exhaust pollutants. The marketplace will then be in a much better position to evaluate and choose the most competitive alternatives capable of delivering the results everybody is looking to achieve.

This shift to a more level playing field should also be accompanied by the elimination of protectionist measures and efforts to bring the global market for biofuels more in line with the oil market, and its market-driven efficiencies and liquidity. This is the way to make biofuels more competitive and less inherently expensive than they are at the moment. It will require harmonised definitions in areas such as waste and residues and the end of priority access to raw materials for some industries, together with effective policing to ensure that these changes are implemented fairly and equitably in practice.

With these types of developments, the biofuels industry will be much better placed to develop the technology needed to further promote society’s transition to new generations of biofuels, particularly those based on waste, residues and algae.

Lars Peter Lindfors

Senior Vice President, Technology
Neste Oil Corporation
Read more: http://www.scienceomega.com/article/1196/a-basis-for-biofuels#ixzz2aMZ2GfbE