Tasting the Light: Device Lets the Blind “See” with Their Tongues

Neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita hypothesized in the 1960s that “we see with our brains not our eyes.” Now, a new device trades on that thinking and aims to partially restore the experience of vision for the blind and visually impaired by relying on the nerves on the tongue’s surface to send light signals to the brain.

See with your toung!From the CPU, the signals are sent to the tongue via a “lollipop,” an electrode array about nine square centimeters that sits directly on the tongue. Each electrode corresponds to a set of pixels. White pixels yield a strong electrical pulse, whereas black pixels translate into no signal. Densely packed nerves at the tongue surface receive the incoming electrical signals, which feel a little like Pop Rocks or champagne bubbles to the user.

It remains unclear whether the information is then transferred to the brain’s visual cortex, where sight information is normally sent, or to its somatosensory cortex, where touch data from the tongue is interpreted, Wicab neuroscientist Aimee Arnoldussen says. “We don’t know with certainty,” she adds.

via Tasting the Light: Device Lets the Blind “See” with Their Tongues: Scientific American.

The Recent Future / August 23, 2009 / Health, SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show

Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.

The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.

“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”

Dr. Frumkin is a founder of Nucleix, a company based in Tel Aviv that has developed a test to distinguish real DNA samples from fake ones that it hopes to sell to forensics laboratories.

The planting of fabricated DNA evidence at a crime scene is only one implication of the findings.

A potential invasion of personal privacy is another. Using some of the same techniques, it may be possible to scavenge anyone’s DNA from a discarded drinking cup or cigarette butt and turn it into a saliva sample that could be submitted to a genetic testing company that measures ancestry or the risk of getting various diseases. Celebrities might have to fear “genetic paparazzi,” said Gail H. Javitt of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University.

via DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show – NYTimes.com.

The Recent Future / August 18, 2009 / SciFi, Tech / 0 Comments

Swine flu jab link to killer nerve disease: Leaked letter reveals concern of neurologists over 25 deaths in America | Mail Online

Prevention: Is the swine flu jab safe? A warning that the new swine flu jab is linked to a deadly nerve disease has been sent by the Government to senior neurologists in a confidential letter.The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.

It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome GBS, which could be triggered by the vaccine.

GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.The letter, sent to about 600 neurologists on July 29, is the first sign that there is concern at the highest levels that the vaccine itself could cause serious complications.

It refers to the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the United States in 1976 when:

  • More people died from the vaccination than from swine flu.
  • 500 cases of GBS were detected.
  • The vaccine may have increased the risk of contracting GBS by eight times.
  • The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear.
  • The US Government was forced to pay out millions of dollars to those affected.

Concerns have already been raised that the new vaccine has not been sufficiently tested and that the effects, especially on children, are unknown.It is being developed by pharmaceutical companies and will be given to about 13 million people during the first wave of immunisation, expected to start in October.

Top priority will be given to everyone aged six months to 65 with an underlying health problem, pregnant women and health professionals.

The British Neurological Surveillance Unit BNSU, part of the British Association of Neurologists, has been asked to monitor closely any cases of GBS as the vaccine is rolled out.

One senior neurologist said last night: ‘I would not have the swineflu jab because of the GBS risk.’There are concerns that there could be a repeat of what became known as the ‘1976 debacle’ in the US, where a swine flu vaccine killed 25 people – more than the virus itself.

via Swine flu jab link to killer nerve disease: Leaked letter reveals concern of neurologists over 25 deaths in America | Mail Online.

The Recent Future / August 15, 2009 / Health / 0 Comments

Cave Complex Found Under Giza Pyramids : Discovery News

Aug. 13, 2009 — An enormous system of caves, chambers and tunnels lies hidden beneath the Pyramids of Giza, according to a British explorer who claims to have found the lost underworld of the pharaohs.

Populated by bats and venomous spiders, the underground complex was found in the limestone bedrock beneath the pyramid field at Giza.

“There is untouched archaeology down there, as well as a delicate ecosystem that includes colonies of bats and a species of spider which we have tentatively identified as the white widow,” British explorer Andrew Collins said.

via Cave Complex Found Under Giza Pyramids : Discovery News.

The Recent Future / August 15, 2009 / History, Nature / 0 Comments

Giant ‘meat-eating’ plant found

A new species of giant carnivorous plant has been discovered in the highlands of the central Philippines.The pitcher plant is among the largest of all pitchers and is so big that it can catch rats as well as insects in its leafy trap.

During the same expedition, botanists also came across strange pink ferns and blue mushrooms they could not identify.

The botanists have named the pitcher plant after British natural history broadcaster David Attenborough.They published details of the discovery in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society earlier this year.

Meat Eating Plants

Word that this new species of pitcher plant existed initially came from two Christian missionaries who in 2000 attempted to scale Mount Victoria, a rarely visited peak in central Palawan in the Philippines.With little preparation, the missionaries attempted to climb the mountain but became lost for 13 days before being rescued from the slopes.On their return, they described seeing a large carnivorous pitcher plant.

via BBC – Earth News – Giant ‘meat-eating’ plant found.

The Recent Future / August 14, 2009 / Nature / 0 Comments

Dogs as intelligent as two-year-old children – Telegraph

They [Scientists] have compiled a list of the most intelligent and least intelligent breeds using information from obedience classes. Border collies and retrievers were rated among the most intelligent while hounds and terriers were the least bright.

“The average dog is about as bright linguistically as a human two-year-old,” said Professor Stanley Coren, a leading expert on canine intelligence at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who has carried out the work.”This means they can understand about 165 words, signs and signals. Those in the top 20 per cent were able to understand as many as 250 words and signals, which is about the same as a two and a half year old.

“Obviously we are not going to be able to sit down and have a conversation with a dog, but like a two-year-old, they show that they can understand words and gestures.”

Professor Coren, who presented his work on Saturday at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, believes dogs are among the most intelligent animals and can rival apes and parrots for their ability to understand language.

While most dogs understand simple commands such as sit, fetch and stay, a border collie tested by Professor Coren showed a knowledge of 200 spoken words. The collie was able to recognise the names of items it was asked to fetch and correctly retrieve them.

The dog was also quick to learn the names for new items and after being taught a new word, brought back the correct item 70 per cent of the time. Other dogs have shown similar abilities, although often with fewer words but with gestures instead.Professor Coren has also found that dogs can count using established tests developed for young children. When something unexpected happens with an object, children and dogs will stare at it for a longer period of time.

By lowering a dog treat behind a screen and then another, the dog would expect to see two dog treats, but if a treat is secretly removed or another one added, the researchers found dogs would stare for longer at the treats when the screen was removed.

Professor Coren said: “Dogs can tell that one plus one should equal two and not one or three.

via Dogs as intelligent as two-year-old children – Telegraph.

The Recent Future / August 9, 2009 / Nature / 0 Comments

Reawakening Retrocyclins: Ancestral Human Defensins Active Against HIV-1

Research published in PLoS Biology that demonstrates the reawakening of latent human cells’ ability to manufacture an HIV defense. A group of scientists led by Nitya Venkataraman began with the knowledge that Old World monkeys have a built-in immunity to HIV: a protein that can prevent HIV from entering cell walls and starting an infection. They examined the human genome for any evidence of a latent gene that could manufacture such a protein, and found the capability in a stretch of what has been dismissively termed “junk DNA.”

“In this work, we reveal that, upon correction of the premature termination codon in theta-defensin pseudogenes, human myeloid cells produce cyclic, antiviral peptides (which we have termed “retrocyclins”), indicating that the cells retain the intact machinery to make cyclic peptides. Furthermore, we exploited the ability of aminoglycoside antibiotics to read-through the premature termination codon within retrocyclin transcripts to produce functional peptides that are active against HIV-1. Given that the endogenous production of retrocyclins could also be restored in human cervicovaginal tissues, we propose that aminoglycoside-based topical microbicides might be useful in preventing sexual transmission of HIV-1.”

via PLoS Biology: Reawakening Retrocyclins: Ancestral Human Defensins Active Against HIV-1.

The Recent Future / August 7, 2009 / Health / 0 Comments

Basics – Finally, the Spleen Gets Some Respect – NYTimes.com

Scientists have discovered that the spleen, long consigned to the B-list of abdominal organs and known as much for its metaphoric as its physiological value, plays a more important role in the body’s defense system than anyone suspected.Reporting in the current issue of the journal Science, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School describe studies showing that the spleen is a reservoir for huge numbers of immune cells called monocytes, and that in the event of a serious trauma to the body like a heart attack, gashing wound or microbial invasion, the spleen will disgorge those monocyte multitudes into the bloodstream to tackle the crisis.“The parallel in military terms is a standing army,” said Matthias Nahrendorf, an author of the report. “You don’t want to have to recruit an entire fighting force from the ground up every time you need it.”

via Basics – Finally, the Spleen Gets Some Respect – NYTimes.com.

The Recent Future / August 4, 2009 / Health / 0 Comments

Injecting oxygen into cancerous tumours ‘improves chances of recovery’

Injecting oxygen into cancerous tumours significantly boosts the chances of recovery, a ground-breaking study has revealed.

Scientists at Oxford University found slightly increasing the supply strengthened blood vessels in cancer cells, making chemotherapy more effective.

Cells which are damaged and weak had a constricted oxygen supply and were less sensitive to radiotherapy treatments, in a series of experiments on mice.

The team behind the breakthrough hailed it as an ‘exciting’ development which would allow drugs to ‘soften up’ tumours before they are targeted with strong treatments.

Scientists had previously tried to starve tumours of oxygen, believing a more stable blood supply would only help the cancer spread.

Professor Gillies McKenna, director of the UK-MRC Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology & Biology, said: ‘We are very excited to have uncovered this brand new approach to cancer treatment where the drugs prime the cancer cells for radiotherapy.

‘You might expect that by increasing an oxygen supply to tumour cells you would help them grow. But actually by oxygenating the cell with a better blood supply we enable radiotherapy and chemotherapy to do a better job of killing them.’

via Injecting oxygen into cancerous tumours ‘improves chances of recovery’ | Mail Online.

The Recent Future / August 2, 2009 / Health / 0 Comments