Thursday, 8 September 2011

Septembers Discussion Board Question

This months question is posed by IYSF.

Each year billions is spent on renewable energies and in sourcing new non-renewable energies. We are attempting to find a sustainable energy plan that can work. However it is difficult to stop using non renewable sources such as oil. How different is our energy expenditure in 2011 in comparison to what we could expect for 2050 ?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

NASA funded Maynooth research team makes evolutionary break through

An international research project led by a scientist at NUI Maynooth says it has made an important breakthrough in the study of animal evolution and origins.

Team leader , Maynooth-based evolutionary biologist Dr. Davide Pisani, says that previous research on the key relationships between animal groups was "flawed". 

Pisani and his team have developed a new system called "Signal Dissection" which the team has used to study a group of tiny animals known as "water bears" (or "tardigrades") which grow to about 1mm in length and have four pairs of clawed limbs:

The team has found that the animals, which have existed for over 600 million years, are related to  arthropods (such as insects) and not nemotoda (such as roundworms) as was previously thought.

Pisano added that 33 species of tardigrades were investigated for this study because “we knew that by focusing on the tardigrades we would be studying the most challenging species possible in terms of their genomic characters and the most difficult to analyse and classify as they evolve very fast”.

These findings have serious consequences for how groups of animals are classified and the understanding of how they have evolved. 

Lahcen Campbell, Pisano’s colleague says that the “potential for subsequent research using our findings is endless”:
"At a practical level, our research has the potential to lead to a greater knowledge of how organisms can survive in space, more effective combating of parasites and better methods to protect useful animals such as lobsters or honeybees".
The research team includes scientists from the National History Museum of London, University College London, the University of Montreal, and the University of Modena e Reggio Emilia, and its paper is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). It is being funded by Science Foundation Ireland and NASA.

Monday, 5 September 2011

60% of deforested Amazon used for cattle: study

Over 60 percent of deforested areas of the Brazilian Amazon forest are used for cattle grazing , with only five percent used for agriculture, a new government study reveals. 

By analyzing satellite imagery, Brazilian  officials  found of the 719,000 square kilometers (277,000 square miles) cleared up to 2008, a whopping 62 percent was left as just grass, and that the use amounted to on average one cow per hectare, roughly the size of a football field.

"Having less than one head of cattle per hectare is unacceptable," said Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira in comments quoted by the Brazilian press Saturday.
"It's a waste, because the forest is being replaced by something that does not generate income or growth," she added.

As five percent of the land goes to agriculture, some 21 percent is abandoned and left to its own regeneration.
Brazil which claims jurisdiction over the majority of the Amazon, the worlds largest rain forest has committed to reduce deforestation drastically by 80 percent by 2020, although current government figure indicate that the process has in fact increased by 15 percent. 

Motor created from single molecule

Scientists have created the worlds smallest electric motor, made from just a single molecule. 

The tiny device has the potential to lead the way for similar devices that could be used in medicine and engineering. At just 200 nanometers the microscopic motor is 60,000 times smaller than the width of human hair.

Leader of the research team Dr Charles Sykes, from Tufts University in Boston, US, said: "There has been significant progress in the construction of molecular motors powered by light and by chemical reactions, but this is the first time that electrically-driven molecular motors have been demonstrated, despite a few theoretical proposals.

"We have been able to show that you can provide electricity to a single molecule and get it to do something that is not just random."

This team, whose research has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, used a state-of-the-art low temperature scanning tunnelling microscope, which uses electrons instead of light to "see" molecules.
The metal tip of the microscope provided an electrical charge to a butyl methyl sulphide molecule placed on a conductive copper surface.
This resulted in the needle like arms of carbon and hydrogen to rotate around a central axis. 
Temperature was found to directly affect direction and speed. Minus 268C was also found to be ideal for tracking the motors motion . The motor span was much faster at higher temperatures , making it difficult to observe and control. 

According to Dr Sykes : "Once we have a better grasp on the temperatures necessary to make these motors function, there could be real-world application in some sensing and medical devices which involve tiny pipes. Friction of the fluid against the pipe walls increases at these small scales, and covering the wall with motors could help drive fluids along."

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The morning coffee kick ? Its all in the mind ..

Coffee is the only way to kick start the morning , right ? According to new research it may be all in your imagination. 

A study published in the journal Appetite finds that the effects of coffee could be as much about our expectations as the drink’s stimulating effects. One group of test volunteers for the University of East London research were given regular coffee, but told it was decaffeinated. The second group were handed cups of decaf, which they were told contained caffeine, the Times of India reports.

All the volunteers were then tested. Those who genuinely had caffeine showed improvement in one mental test, but the coffee did not help their reflex and reaction times. However, volunteers who had drunk decaf which they believed contained caffeine performed better in both the mental test and in reaction and reflex times.

“These results suggest caffeine expectation can affect mood and performance,” the researchers wrote – suggesting that expecting a boost from coffee may have more of an impact than the caffeine itself.

Irish scientists discover useful "Zombie" gene

A "zombie" gene which scientists believed to be dead and inactive, has in fact proved to be alive according to research by Irish scientists.

This research development will be of great relevance in the treatment of many common conditions including cancer and spina bifida. 

The research project, funded by the Health Research Board of Ireland, was led by Dr Anne Parle-McDermott of the School of Biotechnology in Dublin City University (DCU). The results have just been published in the prestigious US research journal, 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'.
 Scientists have known and been aware about these “zombie” or pseudogenes for decades but the genes were always considered dead and inactive, said Dr. Parle-McDermott.

Dr. Parle-Mc Dermott and her team investigated four "zombie" genes associated with the well known DHRF gene.

 According to Dr Parle-McDermott"Using advances in DNA analysis techniques and the completion of the Human Genome sequence, we have demonstrated that DHFRL1 is not a dead gene, but is very much 'alive' and functional. This now brings into question the many other so-called human pseudogenes, and whether or not they are also alive."
"Our findings call for a reassessment of many human pseudogenes and urges researchers to challenge the assumptions made in the past. It is possible that given the many of the thousands of known pseudogenes, many more may not be zombies at all', she said.

This finding may also have particular relevance in spina bifida research as the DHFR "zombie" gene affects the regulation of folic acid . This may make it possible to develop a test to warn if a woman is ta higher risk of having a baby with the condition. It could also represent a new drug target in chemotherapy regimes, that were not previously considered.  Cancer treatments may be more successful if drugs are designed to also deactivate the DHFR zombie gene.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Nuclear reactor destined for other planets

US engineers are working on a nuclear reactor that can be deployed on other planets.
The US Department of energy (DOE) and NASA have teamed up to build a technology demonstration unit scheduled in 2012 as reported by TheEngineer.

James E Werner leads the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory involvement in this effort, which includes participation in the reactor design and modelling teams, fuel development and fabrication and development of a small electrical pump for the liquid-metal cooled system.
Sunlight and fuel cells were the classic choice for generating electricity for space missions previously, but engineers realised that solar energy has limitations. Solar cells can supply electricity in near-Earth orbits and for satellite-borne equipment, but nuclear power is said to offer some unique capabilities that could support manned outposts on other planets or moons.

‘A fission power system on the moon could generate 40kW or more of electric power — approximately the same amount of energy needed to power eight houses on Earth,’ said Werner at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.  
A fission power system is also more flexible in that it can be used in various locations such as in canyons craters or caves.

‘The main point is that nuclear power has the ability to provide a power-rich environment to the astronauts or science packages anywhere in our solar system and that this technology is mature, affordable and safe to use,’ Werner said.

Werner contends that once this technology is developed tested and validated , it will prove as one of the most affordable and versatile options for providing long-term base power for the space exploration programmes.