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  • January 8, 2014
  • 02:21 PM

High-Temperature Optical Gas Sensing to Increase Power Plant Efficiency

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

The sensors team at DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is working on sensor technologies to enable embedded gas sensing at high temperature. The team’s goal is to develop novel materials with large optical responses and high-temperature stability for integration with optical sensor platforms.... Read more »

  • January 8, 2014
  • 01:12 PM

Freezing the Winter Away

by Miss Behavior in The Scorpion and the Frog

The clutches of the Polar Vortex are finally releasing its grasp on us and we can be thankful for our home heating, our layers of warm clothing, and most of all, our bodies’ abilities to generate heat. But it is times like these that make me wonder about our friends that live outside year-round… especially those that don’t generate most of their own body heat. How do they survive these periods of intense cold? There are several species of North American frogs that have an unusual trick up their sleeve: They freeze nearly solid and still live to see the next spring. This picture of a wood frog is by Ontley at Wikimedia Commons.Frogs are ectothermic, meaning they take on the temperature of their surroundings rather than generate their own body heat. This introduces some intriguing questions about how these species even exist in northern climates that experience freezing temperatures every year. When various North American frog species (including wood frogs, spring peepers, western chorus frogs, and a few gray tree frog species) take on freezing winter temperatures, they actually allow their bodies to freeze nearly solid. For most species, this would be a deadly approach: a frozen circulatory system would halt the delivery of oxygen to cells, which require oxygen to generate the energy they need to do just about everything a cell does. Furthermore, jagged ice crystal edges could rupture the cells they are inside. Dead cells lead to dead organs, which in turn lead to dead animals. These freezing frogs have found the secrets to freezing without killing their cells. The first secret of the freezing frogs is to spend the winter snuggled in the leaf litter below the snow. This environment insulates and protects the frogs from the deadly wind chills we have been facing for the last several days. The second secret of the freezing frogs is a creative use of colligative properties. Colligative properties are properties of solutions that depend on the ratio of the number of liquid molecules to the number of molecules of stuff dissolved in that liquid. One of those properties is called freezing point depression: The temperature at which a liquid will freeze can be lowered by adding particles to it. (This is why salt is spread on roads in the winter). A critical component of the freezing frog strategy is for the liver to produce massive amounts of glucose in response to the start of freezing. This glucose is pumped throughout the body, which lowers the freezing point of all of the organs. A third secret of the freezing frogs is the use of ice nucleating agents: proteins that actually encourage freezing. This may seem counterintuitive, but remember that ice crystals inside cells can cause them physical damage. By having a high concentration of ice nucleating agents in the fluid between the cells, this ensures that ice first forms in the spaces surrounding the cells. When ice forms, the ice crystals are made of only water molecules, which draws water out of the solution and leaves behind a higher concentration of other stuff (like glucose) in between the cells. The high concentration of glucose between the cells draws water out of the cells and into that space. This additional water also freezes. In the end, the cells are chock-full of particles, lowering their freezing temperature, and are surrounded by ice, which insulates the cells. Thus, this process of ice formation around the cells prevents ice from forming inside the cells. A fourth secret of the freezing frogs is a metabolic shift. Most animal cells rely on oxygen to produce the energy they need to support their demands. But cells have ways of producing energy without oxygen too. These ways are not very efficient, but are useful when there is not enough oxygen available to meet demand (such as when a seal dives or a cheetah reaches burst speed). When freezing frogs start to freeze and oxygen delivery to the cells slows and eventually stops, their cells shift from an oxygen-reliant system of energy creation to an oxygen-independent system of energy creation. Additionally, freezing organs do less and don’t require as much energy anyway, so they can continue functioning at low levels for a long time if the freezing spell is prolonged. When the environment warms up (as forecasters promise will happen), the body temperatures of these frogs raise and body fluids slowly become liquid again. The heart starts to beat again within hours of the start of thawing and oxygen can again be delivered around the body. The delivery of oxygen-carrying blood helps the rest of the organs return to their normal functions. There are still many secrets of these freezing frogs left to uncover. Maybe you’ll be the one to do it… once we thaw out a bit. Want to know more? Check these out: 1. Storey, K.B. (2004). Strategies for exploration of freeze responsive gene expression: advances in vertebrate freeze tolerance Cryobiology, 48, 134-145 DOI: 10.1016/j.cryobiol.2003.10.0082. Layne, J.R., & Lee, R.E. (1995). Adaptations of frogs to survive freezing Climate Research, 5, 53-59 DOI: 10.3354/cr005053 ... Read more »

  • January 7, 2014
  • 06:32 PM

Methane From Electricity: EMPA Scientists Optimize Sabatier Process

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) in Zurich, Switzerland, have now succeeded in further optimizing this process.... Read more »

Borgschulte A., Gallandat N., Probst B., Suter R., Callini E., Ferri D., Arroyo Y., Erni R., Geerlings H., & Züttel A. (2013) Sorption enhanced CO2 methanation. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (PCCP), 15(24), 9620-5. PMID: 23673365  

  • January 7, 2014
  • 04:00 PM

Experimental Techniques Explained: SDS-PAGE

by Ryan Sweet in Antisense Science

Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate-Poly Acrylamide Gel Electrophoresis, commonly known as SDS-PAGE, is a very common technique used in the lab. It is used for the rough analysis of dirty (raw, impure) samples, sample separation and as a rough guide to protein quantity and identification. When used more carefully the technique can also be used to highlight protein weights, and thus roughly the lengths of the amino acid sequences that make up all proteins. But how does this experimental method work? Let’s find out!... Read more »

  • January 6, 2014
  • 02:57 PM

Polymer Solar Cell Efficiency Increased by 30%

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found an easy way to modify the molecular structure of a polymer commonly used in solar cells.... Read more »

  • January 6, 2014
  • 10:46 AM

Transmission Electron Microscopy Helps Study ‘Wet’ Rechargeable Batteries

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Researchers have developed a way to microscopically view battery electrodes while they are bathed in wet electrolytes, mimicking realistic conditions inside actual batteries.... Read more »

  • January 6, 2014
  • 09:00 AM

Biohydrogen production by the cyanobacterium Cyanothece

by Clay Clark in Biochem Blogs

Hydrogen is arguably the fuel of the future. As a fuel source, is it considered “zero emission,” and as an energy carrier it combusts to produce heat and water. Pure hydrogen does not however occur naturally and must be produced … Continue reading →... Read more »

Bandyopadhyay Anindita, Stöckel Jana, Min Hongtao, Sherman Louis A., & Pakrasi Himadri B. (2010) High rates of photobiological H2 production by a cyanobacterium under aerobic conditions. Nature Communications, 1(9), 139. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1139  

Duval S., Danyal K., Shaw S., Lytle A. K., Dean D. R., Hoffman B. M., Antony E., & Seefeldt L. C. (2013) Electron transfer precedes ATP hydrolysis during nitrogenase catalysis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(41), 16414-16419. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1311218110  

  • January 4, 2014
  • 02:07 PM

Science Is Interpretation

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

You don’t need new data to produce new science. A re-analysis or re-interpretation can be just as important and original as a new set of results. I say this because there’s an interesting discussion going on over at PubPeer. In brief, British physicists Julian Stirling and colleagues have released a draft paper using reanalysis to […]The post Science Is Interpretation appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

Julian Stirling, Ioannis Lekkas, Adam Sweetman, Predrag Djuranovic, Quanmin Guo, Josef Granwehr, Raphaël Lévy, & Philip Moriarty. (2013) Critical assessment of the evidence for striped nanoparticles. arXiv. arXiv: 1312.6812v1

  • January 3, 2014
  • 09:03 AM

HZB Scientists Upgrade Chalcopyrite Solar Cells

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

A team of scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin for Materials and Energy have developed a way to produce chalcopyrite solar cells without cadmium-based buffer layer. A single layer takes on the job of what used to be two layers, doing away with the wet chemical process. Despite a much simplified production method, efficiencies of greater than 18 percent are well within reach.... Read more »

Klenk, R., Steigert, A., Rissom, T., Greiner, D., Kaufmann, C. A., Unold, T. and Lux-Steiner, M. Ch. (2013) Junction formation by Zn(O,S) sputtering yields CIGSe-based cells with efficiencies exceeding 18%. Progress in Photovoltaics: Research and Applications. DOI: 10.1002/pip.2445  

  • January 3, 2014
  • 09:00 AM

There was a fire fight

by Clay Clark in Biochem Blogs

Scientists are becoming ever more aware of the need to identify a fuel which will bring us out of the “oil darkness” and into the light of a renewable source of energy. Bio-butanol is not the savior, although it offers … Continue reading →... Read more »

Nielsen Jens Erik, & Borchert Torben V. (2000) Protein engineering of bacterial α-amylases. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Protein Structure and Molecular Enzymology, 1543(2), 253-274. DOI: 10.1016/S0167-4838(00)00240-5  

  • January 1, 2014
  • 07:10 PM

Treatable inborn errors of metabolism in cases of autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Happy New Year! Καλή Χρονιά (in Greek).Welcome back to Questioning Answers in 2014. Let's continue our journey across the autism research landscape.Party time, excellent @ Wikipedia Holidays. Whilst never regretting the opportunity to go on holiday/vacation, I am the type of person who has a strong desire to stay connected to the (research) world. I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm a product of the age of social media, more of late convert who ran enthusiastically towards the light.A few months back however, I missed something important. It was the chance to peer review the paper by Martha Spilioti and colleagues* (open-access here) and some very interesting information following the screening of 187 children presenting with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for the signs and symptoms of various inborn errors of metabolism.Actually it wasn't all my fault that I didn't accept this review. Granted I didn't access my email on holiday as often as I do when working, but more than that, the publishing journal seemed to expect quite a prompt reply on whether or not I was willing to review. I didn't reply in time, so I missed out. That's what happens in August, the holiday month, the time the kids are off school, y'know, the summer (at least here in my part of the World). No mind, I am happy to see that the Spilioti paper has seen the light of scientific day and hence become fodder for this blog.Anyhow, inborn errors of metabolism. I've talked about them before in relation to autism (see here and here) and how at least some of them might actually be pretty revealing when it comes to at least some autism (as per those interesting findings in relation to the branched-chain amino acids). More recently I've been reading the paper by Stockler-Ipsiroglu and colleagues** talking about outcomes with regards to a diagnosis of guanidinoacetate methyltransferase (GAMT) deficiency which included some chatter on autistic behaviours (or should that just be autism?) as being involved.The Spilioti paper evaluated 187 Greek children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition on the basis of quite a few parameters. We're told that alongside taking quite a bit of information about family history and dietary habits, quite a few laboratory investigations were initiated, too numerous to all mention here. I have to say I was particularly impressed by the authors talking about a glucose loading test (with mitochondrial issues in mind) alongside serum and urine amino and organic acid screens; even looking at carnitine levels. The Greeks seem to be taking a lead in this 'look-see' approach when it comes to the autisms.Their results: well, only a small proportion of their cohort turned up an inborn error of metabolism. Two participants with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome linked to the overproduction of uric acid (see here for a post of impulsivity and uric acid). Two further participants were identified with succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase (SSADH) deficiency (which is a very, very rare condition indeed). One child was also diagnosed with PKU (see here).Perhaps of more interest were the findings related to that glucose loading test and the suggestion that there was an increase in serum beta hydroxybutyrate (β-OH-b) in around 8% of participants. Although not an expert on this particular metabolite, I understand that elevations can indicate one or several possible scenarios (see here). The authors elaborate that some of those with elevations in β-OH-b also "manifested exacerbation of symptoms during high carbohydrate intake" which brings in an interesting dietary element. Indeed, further when a ketogenic diet (high fat, low carbohydrate intake) was initiated in [some of] those with increased β-OH-b, some interesting behavioural changes were reported; one participant was reported to show "remarkable improvement" in his CARS scores, which was followed by a cessation of medication and attendance at a "public elementary school without clinical problems". Yes, I know this was a case series (an optimal outcomer?) and not a controlled trial of the ketogenic diet where increased serum β-OH-b levels have been identified. Perhaps this is the next experimental step?Other interesting findings. Well, yes. Around 7% of participants also showed elevated levels of urinary 3-hydroxyisovaleric acid (3-OH-IVA). Assuming that these child participants were not smokers (see here***) we are also told that none of these 7% were also "undergoing valproate intervention" which is another potential way of elevating 3-OH-IVA (see here****). And when it came to intervening with biotin as a function of the connection between 3-OH-IVA and biotin*****, authors again reported some interesting outcomes leading to "clear therapeutic benefit" noted in CARS scores for some. Please note I'm not suggesting anything based on these findings as per my caveat about no medical or clinical advice given or intended.There is a lot more, data-wise, in the Spilioti paper which I've not been able to include in this post. As per the growing literature on autism perhaps being better defined as the 'autisms' I would echo the sentiments of Spilioti and colleagues when they say: "further consideration be given to the selected analysis of IEM [inborn errors of metabolism] in ASD". That dietary and nutritional supplementation might also be a road to improvement in the presentation of symptoms for some on the spectrum with identified metabolic parameters is also a very important consideration too.Some music to close, and for those of who watched the New Year festivities from the comfort of your own home like I did to the tune of offspring chatter of 'can I stay up late please?', Alfie and Gary sing a classic...----------* Spilioti M. et al. Evidence for Treatable Inborn Errors of Metabolism in a Cohort of 187 Greek Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Front. Hum. Neurosci. 2013; 7:858. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00858** Stockler-Ipsiroglu S. et al. Guanidinoacetate methyltransferase (GAMT) deficiency: Outcomes in 48 individuals and recommendations for diagnosis, treatment and monitoring. Mol Genet Metab. 2013 Nov 7. pii: S1096-7192(13)00366-1. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2013.10.018.*** Sealey WM. et al. Smoking accelerates biotin catabolism in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;80(4):932-5.*... Read more »

Martha Spilioti, Athanasios Evangeliou, Despoina Tramma, Zoe Theodoridou, Spyridon Metaxas, Eleni Michailidi, Eleni Bonti, Helen Frysira, Katerina Haidopoulou, Despoina Asprangathou.... (2013) Evidence for Treatable Inborn Errors of Metabolism in a Cohort of 187 Greek Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Front. Hum. Neurosci. info:/

  • December 20, 2013
  • 10:54 AM

DNA clamp to grab cancer before it develops

by Perikis Livas in Tracing Knowledge

As part of an international research project, a team of researchers has developed a DNA clamp that can detect mutations at the DNA level with greater efficiency than methods currently in use. Their work could facilitate rapid screening of those diseases that have a genetic basis, such as cancer, and provide new tools for more advanced nanotechnology. The results of this research is published this month in the journal ACS Nano.... Read more »

  • December 20, 2013
  • 10:50 AM

Spider Acts Like Ruthless Carnivore, Is Really Flexitarian

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Even deadly predators crave a salad sometimes. Certain orb-weaver spiders—apparent full-time carnivores who eat by trapping prey, covering it with digestive juices, and then slurping it down like an insect smoothie—have been secretly taking their meals with a plant-based side dish. Namely, pollen.Orb weavers are a family of spiders common all across the world; they're the ones that weave the classic concentric-circle webs you see in picture books. Earlier studies have shown that those webs can collect a lot of pollen on their sticky strands, and that the spiders are willing to eat pollen in the lab. Benjamin Eggs, a graduate student at the University of Bern in Switzerland, and ecologist Dirk Sanders studied two kinds of orb weavers to see what truth there was to this rumor.For the first part of the experiment, Eggs gathered 20 young Aculepeira ceropegia spiders from outdoors in the spring and brought them into the lab. He coaxed each spider to build its nest inside a cardboard box, where he supplied it with several fruit flies per week. Eggs also sprinkled half the spiderwebs with birch pollen, as they might be in the wild.After a month, Eggs broke down the spiders' bodies and examined the carbon and nitrogen isotopes inside them. Isotopes, if it's been a while since your last chemistry class, are different forms of the same element. For example, most carbon atoms in the world have 6 protons plus 6 neutrons in their nuclei, making them carbon-12. But a small percentage of carbon atoms, called carbon-13, have an extra neutron. Animals incorporate the atoms they eat into their bodies. So by comparing the ratio of lighter to heavier isotopes in spiders' bodies to the signature ratios of their various foods, the researchers could see what the spiders were eating.In the lab, orb weavers supplied with pollen had a different isotope ratio than their neighbors who only received fruit flies. This told Eggs that his spiders were, in fact, eating the pollen. But would they do it in the wild?He returned outdoors and gathered young Araneus diadematus spiders, another orb-weaver species, from the trees. He used nets and bug vacuums to gather as many other insects from the area as possible—the spiders' potential prey. And he collected samples of pollen from neighboring trees.Eggs analyzed the carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the outdoor spiders, along with all the insects and pollen that might be on their menu. Based on those ratios, he calculated that pollen made up 25 percent of the orb weavers' diet.It's convenient for orb weavers to eat pollen, because they frequently dismantle and eat their webs in order to recycle the silk proteins. As long as they're at it, they may as well suck down the vegetables trapped there. Eggs points out, though, that the pollen grains he found in his study are too big for spiders to swallow accidentally. So his orb weavers must have deliberately eaten pollen grains by first covering them in digestive enzymes, then slurping them up.Eating pollen might be most practical in the spring, when young spiders have just hatched and built webs, but insects are still hard to find. The spiders in this study were all juveniles. Yet Eggs, who carried out this research for his undergraduate thesis, thinks there's no reason adult spiders wouldn't eat pollen too. He says, "The anatomy of araneids does not change dramatically when they reach maturity." (He adds intriguingly, "Exception: genitals.")It's even possible that other kinds of spiders nibble on pollen too. "There is evidence that other web-building spiders like the sheet weavers (Linyphiidae) also feed on pollen," Eggs says, "although they don’t eat their own web." Every diet needs a cheat day, after all.Photo by Dirk Sanders.Eggs B, & Sanders D (2013). Herbivory in spiders: the importance of pollen for orb-weavers. PloS one, 8 (11) PMID: 24312430

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  • December 19, 2013
  • 09:28 AM

PNNL Turns Algae Into Oil, Process Takes Minutes

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), have developed a new continuous chemical process that converts algae into oil, water and usable byproducts. A biofuels company, Utah-based Genifuel Corp., has licensed the technology and is already working with an industrial partner to build a pilot plant using the technology.... Read more »

Douglas C. Elliott, Todd R. Hart, Andrew J. Schmidt, Gary G. Neuenschwander, Leslie J. Rotness, Mariefel V. Olarte, Alan H. Zacher, Karl O. Albrecht, Richard T. Hallen, Johnathan E. Holladay. (2013) Process development for hydrothermal liquefaction of algae feedstocks in a continuous-flow reactor. Algal Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.algal.2013.08.005  

  • December 19, 2013
  • 09:23 AM

Behold the ‘Plastisphere’

by Perikis Livas in Tracing Knowledge

Scientists have discovered a diverse multitude of microbes colonizing and thriving on flecks of plastic that have polluted the oceans—a vast new human-made flotilla of microbial communities that they have dubbed the “plastisphere.”... Read more »

Zettler ER, Mincer TJ, & Amaral-Zettler LA. (2013) Life in the "plastisphere": microbial communities on plastic marine debris. Environmental science , 47(13), 7137-46. PMID: 23745679  

  • December 18, 2013
  • 04:32 PM

Scientists Increase Quantum Dot Charge Transfer By Shrinking Dot’s Core

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and Syracuse University were able to improve quantum dot charge transfer properties by shrinking the core of a quantum dot. This process enhances the ability of a surrounding polymer to extract electric charges generated in the dot by the absorption of light.... Read more »

  • December 18, 2013
  • 01:49 PM

Fine-Tuned Silica Rods Can Lead to Anti-Reflective Solar Panels

by dailyfusion in The Daily Fusion

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a method to fine-tune the diameter of silica rods by controlling their temperature as they grow. This opens the way for advances in anti-reflective solar panels, computer monitors, TV screens, eye glasses and more.... Read more »

  • December 16, 2013
  • 12:54 PM

Unusual suspects

by Perikis Livas in Tracing Knowledge

New collaborative work from computational biologists at MIT and experimental biologists at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), however, is easing that distinction by combining computational and experimental approaches to identifying biologically meaningful RNA folds.... Read more »

  • December 16, 2013
  • 06:00 AM

Ancient Feces From Oregon Cave Aren’t Human, Study Says, Adding to Debate on First Americans

by Blake de Pastino in Western Digs

New findings about some ancient feces are the latest rejoinder in a five-year-long debate over one of the most important — and controversial — recent archaeological finds in the U.S.... Read more »

M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Dennis L. Jenkins, Anders Götherstrom, Nuria Naveran, Juan J. Sanchez, Michael Hofreiter, Philip Francis Thomsen, Jonas Binladen, Thomas F. G. Higham, Robert M. Yohe II.... (2008) DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1154116  

  • December 14, 2013
  • 10:51 AM

Curcumin: Mechanism, Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits

by Imtiaz Ibne Alam in Medical-Reference - A Pioneer in Medical Blogging

Curcumin is the active compound of the popular Indian spice turmeric (also known as curry powder in western countries). From ancient times to today, turmeric has been used in Indian subcontinents to not only spice up and preserve food but also as a traditional remedy to heal many diseases. It is also used in textiles as a yellow die. Curcumin is the key ingredient in turmeric and its chemical structure is the reason for the bright yellow color of turmeric. Botanically, it is a relative of the ginger family.

Curcumin is now getting an increasing number of popularity in Europe and America, as this powerful natural ingredient provides various medicinal and health benefits. Many of the benefits of curcumin are now evident through clinical studies. Researchers of these studies found curcumin as a natural immune system booster with numerous health benefits. And, considering the various health benefits, they also called it as the solid gold of India. Curcumin is shown to have antioxidant, anti-diabetic antiarthritic, antiamyloid, and more potently, anti-inflammatory properties.

Read on to know about established medicinal uses and health benefits of curcumin based on recent study results. ... Read more »

Wongcharoen W, Jai-Aue S, Phrommintikul A, Nawarawong W, Woragidpoonpol S, Tepsuwan T, Sukonthasarn A, Apaijai N, & Chattipakorn N. (2012) Effects of curcuminoids on frequency of acute myocardial infarction after coronary artery bypass grafting. The American journal of cardiology, 110(1), 40-4. PMID: 22481014  

Chuengsamarn S, Rattanamongkolgul S, Luechapudiporn R, Phisalaphong C, & Jirawatnotai S. (2012) Curcumin extract for prevention of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care, 35(11), 2121-7. PMID: 22773702  

Kalaria RN, Maestre GE, Arizaga R, Friedland RP, Galasko D, Hall K, Luchsinger JA, Ogunniyi A, Perry EK, Potocnik F.... (2008) Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia in developing countries: prevalence, management, and risk factors. Lancet neurology, 7(9), 812-26. PMID: 18667359  

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