Wednesday, February 29, 2012

ESA ATV-3 (Edoardo Amaldi) set to provide annual service to Space Station

The third Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-3), to be launched to the International Space Station in March 2012, is named after Italian physicist and spaceflight pioneer Edoardo Amaldi

ATVs are an essential contribution by Europe for supplying and maintaining the International Space Station.

The vessels are named after great European scientists and visionaries to highlight Europe’s deep roots in science, technology and culture.

Credits: ESA

Ariane 5 ES launcher for the ATV Edoardo Amaldi is taking shape at Europe's Spaceport in Kourou as the cryogenic main stage, with its the Vulcain 2 engine, was hoisted to vertical position inside the Launcher Integration Building. 

The lower composite of the launcher - the rocket without the payload and fairing - is assembled from the main central stage and two solid boosters in this 58-m high facility.

Credits: ESA, Arianespace, Optique Video du CSG - J.M. Guillon

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ESA: Astrophysicist Anthony Marston one of the minds behind ESA Science


Excellence and perseverance - astrophysicist Anthony Marston is one of the brilliant minds behind ESA Science

NASA Cassini Image: Saturn's Moon Mimas - Cut-Off Rings

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

One of Saturn's moons, Mimas joins the planet's rings which appear truncated by the planet's shadow in this Cassini spacecraft image.

Saturn is off to the left, out of view here.

The inner rings are just visible there but the planet's shadow covers part of the rings across the middle of the image.

Mimas (246 miles, or 396 kilometers across) is closer to Cassini than the rings are here.

The bright speck above the rings is a star.

To increase visibility, the rings have been brightened by a factor of two relative to Mimas. This view looks toward the southern, un-illuminated side of the rings from just below the ring-plane.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Dec. 21, 2011.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.7 million miles (2.7 million kilometers) from Mimas. Image scale is 10 miles (16 kilometers) per pixel on Mimas.



The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.

The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit www.nasa.gov/cassini and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at ciclops.org

NASA Spacesuit Development - Interview with Amy Ross, Engineer



Part I: NASA's designing new spacesuits! Watch this interview with Amy Ross, a NASA Johnson Spacesuit engineer! Follow Nasa Johnson on Twitter at @NASA_Johnson

Part II:

NEEMO 16 mission scheduled for June: Asteroid underwater training

The next NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) mission is being scheduled for June, with teams already preparing for a recon trip ahead of the exercise.

The underwater training exercises are staged at the Aquarius underwater habitat in Key Largo, Florida – simulating the conditions and protocols for a real Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) mission.

NEEMO 15 was the first real full scale operation – even including Mission Operations Directorate (MOD) teams – continuing the trend of testing equipment and operations required for exploration of Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs).

The mission treated the underwater environment like a giant Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), allowing for specialist divers to simulate working on a NEA, communicating – with time delays – with mission control and practising the use of tools to work on an asteroid.

The October NEEMO 15 mission was led by NASA astronaut and former International Space Station (ISS) crew member Shannon Walker.


The crew included Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Takuya Onishi and Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques from the 2009 NASA astronaut class.

Steven Squyres of Cornell University and scientific principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Project, joined James Talacek and Nate Bender of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington – who are both professional aquanauts.

NASA astronauts Stan Love, Richard Arnold and Mike Gernhardt, all veteran spacewalkers, participated in the NEEMO mission from the DeepWorker submersible, which they piloted.

The submersible is a key element of simulating a NEA mission, acting as an underwater stand-in for the Multi Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV), which is currently the leading concept to be the main NEA exploration vehicle at the site at the asteroid, utilizing its robotic arms and crew airlock.

Aquarius acts as the Deep Space Hab (DSH) for these missions, a large element of hardware that would arrive at the NEA after being launched from Earth on the Space Launch System (SLS) – likely the 105mt Block 1A Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV).

NEEMO 15 worked on three major elements of a NEA mission, such as how to anchor to the surface via the “excursion lines”; how to move around; and how best to collect data and materials.

Read More about NEEMO here

ESA’s blogging astronauts on the road to space - images

Alexander Gerst, ESA astronaut, training for spacewalks. 

Here he is in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab at NASA's Sonny Carter Training Facility, near Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. 

Alexander preparing for his mission to the International Space Station in 2014, as a flight engineer for Expeditions 40 and 41.

Alexander Gerst was born in Künzelsau, Germany, in 1976. 

He studied at the University of Karlsruhe, Germany, where he received a diploma in geophysics. 

He also studied Earth Science at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, where he was awarded a Master of Science. 

He has been working as a researcher since 2001. In his spare time he enjoys mountaineering, diving, climbing and skydiving.

Credits: NASA

NASA: JAXA HTV-2 International Space Station - Research Going Strong

Backdropped by a cloud-covered part of Earth, the unpiloted Japanese Kounotori2 H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV2, approaches the International Space Station.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, launched HTV2 aboard an H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan at 12:37 a.m. EST; Jan. 22, 2011.

HTV2 is the second unpiloted cargo ship launched by JAXA to the station and delivered more than four tons of food and supplies to the space station and its crew members. (NASA)

Ultra-fast Outflows Help Monster Black Holes Shape Their Galaxies

The supermassive black holes in active galaxies can produce narrow particle jets (orange) and wider streams of gas (blue-gray) known as ultra-fast outflows, which are powerful enough to regulate both star formation in the wider galaxy and the growth of the black hole.

Inset: A close-up of the black hole and its accretion disk. (Artist concept credit: ESA/AOES Medialab)

A curious correlation between the mass of a galaxy's central black hole and the velocity of stars in a vast, roughly spherical structure known as its bulge has puzzled astronomers for years.

An international team led by Francesco Tombesi at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., now has identified a new type of black-hole-driven outflow that appears to be both powerful enough and common enough to explain this link.

Most big galaxies contain a central black hole weighing millions of times the sun's mass, but galaxies hosting more massive black holes also possess bulges that contain, on average, faster-moving stars.

This link suggested some sort of feedback mechanism between a galaxy's black hole and its star-formation processes.

Yet there was no adequate explanation for how a monster black hole's activity, which strongly affects a region several times larger than our solar system, could influence a galaxy's bulge, which encompasses regions roughly a million times larger.

"This was a real conundrum. Everything was pointing to supermassive black holes as somehow driving this connection, but only now are we beginning to understand how they do it," Tombesi said.

Active black holes acquire their power by gradually accreting -- or "feeding" on -- million-degree gas stored in a vast surrounding disk. This hot disk lies within a corona of energetic particles, and while both are strong X-ray sources, this emission cannot account for galaxy-wide properties.

Near the inner edge of the disk, a fraction of the matter orbiting a black hole often is redirected into an outward particle jet. Although these jets can hurl matter at half the speed of light, computer simulations show that they remain narrow and deposit most of their energy far beyond the galaxy's star-forming regions.

Astronomers suspected they were missing something. Over the last decade, evidence for a new type of black-hole-driven outflow has emerged.

At the centers of some active galaxies, X-ray observations at wavelengths corresponding to those of fluorescent iron show that this radiation is being absorbed.

This means that clouds of cooler gas must lie in front of the X-ray source. What's more, these absorbed spectral lines are displaced from their normal positions to shorter wavelengths that is, blueshifted, which indicates that the clouds are moving toward us.

Monday, February 27, 2012

GJ1214b, New Planet in Milky Way contains mainly Steam and Ice

The Picture shows a comparison between our Earth and GJ1214b.

Astronomers have discovered a new planet in our galaxy that is unlike any other found so far: Both the planet and its atmosphere are mostly water, though none of it is liquid.

The planet, GJ1214b, has a diameter 2.7 times that of Earth, and it weighs seven times as much.

It probably has much more water than Earth, in the form of steam and a peculiar high-temperature ice that exists at extremely high pressures and far less rock.

“There’s probably nothing too special about this planet itself,” said Zachory K. Berta, an astronomer at Harvard University who was involved with the research. The main thing, he added, is that “we have the opportunity to really see the density of the planet.”

He and his colleagues report their findings in The Astrophysical Journal.

To estimate the density and diameter, they measured the colour of the light from the star that shines through the planet’s atmosphere.

“We’re observing the sunset on this planet,” he said.

Though the planet was discovered with a ground-based telescope, the data that allowed Mr. Berta and his colleagues to estimate the planet’s mass and density was gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Looking ahead, the researchers have two goals. The first is to learn more about the planet.

“We’re going to study this atmosphere,” Mr. Berta said, “and work on the details so we can really try to understand what’s going on.” The second goal is to find more planets.

Using the same techniques, the astronomers can study the atmosphere of other planets in detail, and Mr. Berta said a slightly smaller, slightly cooler planet might be capable of supporting life.

Markarian Chain: A stretch of galaxies in the Virgo cluster

Credit: Larry Van VleetThis stunning image by skywatcher Larry Van Vleet is of Markarian's Chain, a stretch of galaxies in the Virgo cluster.

The galaxies are said to be in a smooth, curved line making them appear to be connected in a chain.

Located about 70 million light-years away, the Virgo cluster is a large collection of some 2,000 galaxies that dominate our part of the universe.

A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, or about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).

MUOS-1 Satellite Launched on Atlas 5 Rocket

Credit: Pat Corkery, United Launch Alliance

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket blasts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Feb. 24, 2012, with the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System-1 (MUOS-1) satellite.

At nearly 15,000 pounds, MUOS-1 marks the heaviest satellite launched to date by an Atlas launch vehicle.

Lynd's Dark Nebula: The Native American Woman Dancer

Credit: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

Resembling a dancer twirling her skirt in the wind, this image of the Lynd's Dark Nebula (LDN 1622) glows with deep blue and maroon colors.

The picture was taken by skywatcher and photographer Adam Block from the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon Sky Center.

LDN 1622 is called a dark nebula because interstellar dust is so thick it obscures light from nearby stars or other nebulas.

It is located near the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy close the Belt and Sword of Orion, an area that can be a favorite observing ground for avid skywatchers.

"My first impression of this nebula, especially looking at the raw grayscale images, was of a Native American woman dancer. She makes a cloud of dust as she twists in her movement. Perhaps I am influenced by where I reside, but the impressionistic form seems sinuous and kinetic," Block reported.

NASA SDO Image: Solar Moon Transit

A NASA spacecraft has captured stunning footage of Tuesday's (Feb. 21) partial solar eclipse, which left our star looking briefly like a huge celestial Pac-Man.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was watching Tuesday morning when the new moon crossed part of the sun's face in a partial eclipse that was visible only from space. 

SDO snapped a video and photos of the solar eclipse from its lofty perch 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above Earth.

Spinning Star's Vanishing Act Reveals Cosmic Mystery

While studying the globelike supernova remnant, astronomers discovered a new pulsar, PSR J1841-0500. 

After shining for at least a year, the pulsar, located inside the white circle, abruptly disappeared. 

The left image was provided by the Multi-Array Galactic Plane Imaging Survey, the right by CHANDRA.
CREDIT: Shami Chatterjee

Pulsars are fast-spinning stars that emit regular beams of light known for their clocklike regularity. So, when one strangely turned off for a year and a half, astronomers were surprised to find that this abnormality could help them solve the longstanding mystery of what makes these flashing stars tick.

Despite more than forty years of study, astronomers still can't nail down what causes these rapidly rotating stars to pulse but when one, called PSR J1841, turned off for 580 days, it gave astronomers a glimpse of how pulsars behave when they can't be seen.

In December 2008, Fernando Camilo, of Columbia University in New York, was using the Parkes telescope in Australia to search for a known object when he found a steadily flashing star in his field of view.

He quickly identified it as a pulsar that was spinning once every 0.9 seconds, a fairly standard rotation.

"I wasn't too excited," Camilo admitted.

Astrophysicists Discover Stellar Black Hole In Andromeda Galaxy

Astrophysicists claim to have discovered a stellar black hole in the Andromeda galaxy.

The scientists, from Clemson University and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, have discovered a stellar mass black hole in Andromeda, a spiral galaxy about 2.6 million light years from Earth.

The discovery was made with data from NASA's Chandra observatory.

The team was studying ultra-luminous X-Rays, emitted a long time ago.

The black hole was suspected when they detected an unusual X-Ray transient light source in Andromeda.

They concluded the source was emitting X-Rays because the black hole was absorbing material at very high rates.

"The brightness suggested that these X-rays belonged to the class of ultra=luminous X-ray sources, or ULXs," said Amanpreet Kaur, a graduate student in physics from the Clemson University, adding, "But ULXs are rare.

There are none at all in the Milky Way where Earth is located, and this is the first to be confirmed in Andromeda. Proving it required detailed observations." The team concluded the ULX source probably originated from a system similar to X-Ray binaries in our own galaxy.

Stellar black holes are small black holes formed by the collapse of very massive stars, each of which weighs about 10 times as much as our Sun.

"We were very lucky that we caught the ULX early enough to see most of its light curve, which showed a very similar behavior to other X-ray sources from our own galaxy," said Wolfgang Pietsch of the Max Planck Institute.

"This means that the ULX in Andromeda likely contains a normal, stellar black hole swallowing material at very high rates," he added.

Space Elevator Plans Unveiled by Japanese

Getting to space may become be as simple as pressing the "door close" button of an elevator, as imagined by Japanese construction company Obayashi Corp.

The company unveiled plans Wednesday to build a space elevator with a hopeful completion date of 2050.

According to the proposal, 30 passengers at a time would depart from the equator and travel in an enclosure guided by a 60,000 mile (96,000 km) cable that stretches a quarter of the way to the moon.

The final destination would be a spaceport that contains laboratories and living quarters 22,000 miles (35,000 km) above the Earth's surface.

Engineers expect to anchor the cable by a counterweight attached to the space end to help keep the line taut. Solar panels would provide electricity to power the station.

Don't expect a quick ride though. Even travelling at 124 mph (200 km/h) the trip would expect to take a week.

One issue that has plagued space elevator designs is finding the right material to build such a long cable. Engineers from Obayashi Corp. believe carbon nanotubes, super-light and super-strong sheets of carbon rolled into tubes, might be the answer if they can be mass produced cheap enough.

"At this moment, we cannot estimate the cost for the project," an Obayashi official reported. "However, we'll try to make steady progress so that it won't end just up as simply a dream."

Safety would play a large role in the construction of the elevator. Passengers need to be protected from the expected radiation exposure during the trip. In addition, the elevator and spaceport would not orbit around the Earth, which puts it at risk of collision with orbiting satellites.

Space elevators are not a new concept. In 1895, Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was inspired by the Eiffel Tower and conceptually designed a space elevator 22,200 miles (35,800 km) high he called a "celestial castle", according to NASA.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

NASA Hubble Image: Eta Carinae Supernova

NASA's Hubble Telescope captured an image of Eta Carinae.

This image consists of ultraviolet and visible light images from the High Resolution Channel of Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys.

The field of view is approximately 30 arcseconds across.

The larger of the two stars in the Eta Carinae system is a huge and unstable star that is nearing the end of its life, and the event that the 19th century astronomers observed was a stellar near-death experience.

Scientists call these outbursts supernova impostor events, because they appear similar to supernovae but stop just short of destroying their star.

Although 19th century astronomers did not have telescopes powerful enough to see the 1843 outburst in detail, its effects can be studied today.

The huge clouds of matter thrown out a century and a half ago, known as the Homunculus Nebula, have been a regular target for Hubble since its launch in 1990.

This image, taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys High Resolution Channel, is the most detailed yet, and shows how the material from the star was not thrown out in a uniform manner, but forms a huge dumbbell shape.

Eta Carinae is one of the closest stars to Earth that is likely to explode in a supernova in the relatively near future (though in astronomical timescales the "near future" could still be a million years away).

When it does, expect an impressive view from Earth, far brighter still than its last outburst: SN 2006gy, the brightest supernova ever observed, came from a star of the same type, though from a galaxy over 200 million light-years away.

Image Credit: ESA/NASA

Japanese Astronaut Furukawa Builds LEGO Space Station

Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa poses with the LEGO model of the International Space Station that he built on board the real space station.
CREDIT: NASA

It took more than 200 astronauts from 12 countries more than a dozen years to build the International Space Station (ISS).

Satoshi Furukawa, an astronaut from Japan, matched that feat in just about two hours and he did it all while aboard the orbiting outpost itself.

It helped that his space station was made out of LEGO.

"It was a great opportunity for me to have built the LEGO space station," Furukawa, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) flight engineer, said in an interview after he returned to Earth. "I enjoyed building it."

"The ISS was put together in space, piece by piece," said Furukawa. "It's very similar to how you put together LEGO bricks on Earth."

NASA: John Glenn speaks to ISS Crew

Senator John Glenn talks, via satellite, with the astronauts on the International Space Station, in Columbus, Ohio. 

Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, piloting Friendship 7 around it three times in 1962, and also became the oldest person in space, at age 77, by orbiting Earth with six astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery in 1998.
 
Picture: Jay LaPrete/AP

Friday, February 24, 2012

NASA SDO: Shifting Plasma Images

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has released images of plasma shifting back and forth above the sun's surface for 30 hours.

On February 7th - 8th an active region rotating into view provides a bright backdrop to the gyrating streams of plasma.

The particles are being pulled in various directions by competing magnetic forces.

They are tracking along strands of magnetic field lines.

This kind of detailed solar observation with high-resolution frames and a four-minute cadence was not possible until SDO, which launched two years ago on February 11th, 2010.

Picture: NASA SDO / Rex Features

Rocket Launch Image: University of Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range near Fairbanks, Alaska

A rocket flies through the aurora borealis after lifting off from the University of Alaska's Poker Flat Research Range near Fairbanks, Alaska. 

The mission was launched by a NASA funded group of 60 researchers studying electrical activity in the aurora borealis and the likelihood it is interfering with GPS and other signals. 

Cornell University says the 46-foot rocket sent back data as it flew through the aurora at an altitude of 217 miles.

Picture: NASA Wallops, Lee Wingfield/AP

Sylene stenophylla plant regenerated from tissue of fossil fruit

This photo provided by the Institute of Cell Biophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences show a Sylene stenophylla plant regenerated from tissue of fossil fruit. 

The plant has been regenerated from tissues found in a squirrel burrow that had been stuck in Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years.

 It is the oldest plant ever to be regenerated and it is fertile, producing white flowers and viable seeds.

Picture: The Institute of Cell Biophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences / AP

NASA Satellite Image: Pipeline ablaze outside Homs, Syria

This satellite image shows a pipeline fire in Homs, Syria. 

The pipeline, which runs through the rebel-held neighbourhood of Baba Amr, had been shelled by regime troops for the previous 12 days, according to two activist groups, the Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

The state news agency, SANA, blamed "armed terrorists" for the pipeline attack.

Picture: DigitalGlobe/AP

Mars HiRise Image: Spring on Mars

Spring on Mars. This image provided by NASA/JPL and the University of Arizona shows barchan (crescent-shaped) sand dunes in the North Polar region on Mars. 

In this image, taken during the northern spring season, the dunes and ground are still covered in seasonal frost.

The speckled appearance is due to the warming of the area.

As the carbon dioxide frost and ice on the dunes warms, small areas warm and sublimate (turn from solid to gas) faster, creating small jets that expose/deposit dark sand and dust onto the surface. 

Notice that there are no spots on the ground between the dunes - that is because the ground stays more uniformly cold, unlike the darker dune sand.

Picture: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/AFP/Getty

Antispila oinophylla: New moth species invades Italy's Chardonnay vineyards

Antispila oinophylla: A moth with a taste for Chardonnay leaves, which has infested vineyards across northern Italy, is a new species of leafminer, scientists say. 

The pest was first discovered by Italian scientists in 2006, but they were unable to identify it.

Now, by examining a snippet of the moth's genetic code, researchers have confirmed that it is a previously unnamed species.

The team published their findings in the journal ZooKeys.

The Italian team enlisted the help of insect expert Erik van Nieukerken from the Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity in Leiden.

"We first turned to the [scientific] literature to find out what was already known, which was appallingly little for this group [of moths]," Dr van Nieukerken said.

He and his colleagues used a method known as DNA barcoding to examine a section of the insect's genetic code.

New Species
The new species, which now bears the name Antispila oinophylla, had previously been confused with a North American species (Antispila ampelopsifoliella), which feeds on Virginia creeper.

Only the genetic studies revealed it to be a different species with a taste for grapevines. Its native range is across eastern North America, where it feeds on several species of wild grapes.

So far, the species has been found in vineyards in Italy's Trento and Veneto regions, spreading and increasing in population since it was first recorded.


Read More here : New moth species invades Italy's vineyards

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Scotland's Glasgow firm Clyde Space awarded small share of UK technology funding

Glasgow-based Clyde Space has been awarded funding for two joint space technology development projects.

The firm has secured nearly £70,000 under the UK Space Agency's National Space Technology Programme (NSTP).

The funding will help Clyde further work on miniaturised electric propulsion systems for very small spacecraft.

The other project involves developing attitude planning and control algorithms for low cost spacecraft.

Clyde has been working on tiny electric propulsion systems for very small spacecraft called "CubeSats" and nanosatellites with Southampton University's Mars Space Ltd.

Funding of £24,000 has been awarded for their joint work on a micro pulsed plasma thruster for CubeSats.

Clyde said the project would take the technology forward to a flight-ready prototype.

The UK Space Agency awarded a further £44,000 for a joint project with the Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory at the University of Strathclyde.

That project involves optimising algorithms for control of CubeSat attitude, furthering work already completed at Clyde.


Craig Clark, from Clyde Space, said: "We are up against organisations from all over the world, high technology companies that are doing similar things to us, so this funding will really help towards us maintaining a competitive edge."

Scotland Space Scientific Research and Innovation is reaching for the stars

At last Scotland is being seen as playing a leading role in the space sector after decades of being the engineers, scientists and innovators that break down technological barriers in other countries' space programs.

The space sector contributes £5.6 billion to the UK economy, as well as supporting 68,000 high-value jobs. Not only that, it has soared above the recent economic headwinds, growing an average of 9 per cent each year since 1999.

Scotland-based companies are playing a key role in that success story. Clyde Space is leading the design and manufacture of the UKube-1 satellite – the UK’s first satellite commissioned by the UK Space Agency.

Other examples include Star-Dundee, which sells its data-handling test products to almost every international space agency, while Selex Galileo, in Edinburgh, is tapping into the market for European satellites.

Commercial success also goes hand in hand with globally recognised academic excellence, with the recent launch of the Space Glasgow research cluster by the UK Science Minister David Willetts.

Scotland is also involved with key instruments for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will replace Hubble Space telescope (HST), currently jointly managed by NASA and ESA.

But don’t think that space research is something that can only be applied out in the great beyond. In fact, on 6 March, Glasgow will host the second Scottish Space Symposium, exploring the theme of “Bringing space down to earth”. Download a copy of the Program here

Scottish Enterprise is supporting the event in partnership with University of Strathclyde to showcase the benefits of using space-based information and technologies.

For example, use of space-based data will allow Network Rail to improve safety by monitoring landslides remotely via satellite rather than sending engineers to remote locations.

Edinburgh-based Ecometrica is also using satellite data to monitor CO2 levels, putting them at the vanguard of carbon trading and tariffs which the EU is investigating placing on businesses as a means of tackling climate change.

So the Scottish Space Symposium will explore how businesses can benefit from terrestrial applications in such key fields as communications and transport. Science fact, as opposed to science fiction.

Smart paint uses Fly Ash to revolutionize structural safety - Scottish Research

Dr. Mohamed Saafi, University of Strathclyde. Credit: University of Strathclyde

An innovative low-cost smart paint that can detect microscopic faults in wind turbines, mines and bridges before structural damage occurs is being developed by researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland.

The environmentally-friendly paint uses nanotechnology to detect movement in large structures, and could shape the future of safety monitoring.

Traditional methods of assessing large structures are complex, time consuming and use expensive instrumentation, with costs spiraling into millions of pounds each year.

However, the smart paint costs just a fraction of the cost and can be simply sprayed onto any surface, with electrodes attached to detect structural damage long before failure occurs.

Dr Mohamed Saafi, of the Strathclyde University's Department of Civil Engineering, said: "The development of this smart paint technology could have far-reaching implications for the way we monitor the safety of large structures all over the world.

"There are no limitations as to where it could be used and the low-cost nature gives it a significant advantage over the current options available in the industry. The process of producing and applying the paint also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward."

The paint is formed using a recycled waste product known as fly ash and highly aligned carbon nanotubes. When mixed it has a cement-like property which makes it particularly useful in harsh environments.

Dr Saafi explained: "The process of monitoring involves in effect a wireless sensor network. The paint is interfaced with wireless communication nodes with power harvesting and warning capability to remotely detect any unseen damage such as micro-cracks in a wind turbine concrete foundation.

"Wind turbine foundations are currently being monitored through visual inspections. The developed paint with the wireless monitoring system would significantly reduce the maintenance costs and improve the safety of these large structures.

"Current technology is restricted to looking at specific areas of a structure at any given time, however, smart paint covers the whole structure which is particularly useful to maximise the opportunity of preventing significant damage."

The research has been carried out at Strathclyde with Dr Saafi working alongside David McGahon, who initiated the work as part of his PhD project.

With fly ash being the main material used to make the paint, it costs just one percent of the alternative widely used inspection methods.

A prototype has been developed and tests have shown the paint to be highly effective. It is hoped further tests will be carried out in Glasgow in the near future.

Dr Saafi added: "We are able to carry out the end-to-end process at the University and we are hoping that we can now demonstrate its effectiveness on a large structure.

"The properties of the fly ash give the paint a durability that will allow it to be used in any environment which will be a massive advantage in areas where the weather can make safety monitoring particularly difficult.

"The smart paint represents a significant development and is one that has possibly been overlooked as a viable solution because research tends to focus on high-tech options that look to eliminate human control. Our research shows that by maintaining the human element the costs can be vastly reduced without an impact on effectiveness."

Children have highest exposure to Titanium Dioxide nanoparticles in M&Ms, Smarties, etc.

Children may be receiving the highest exposure to nanoparticles of titanium dioxide in candy, which they eat in amounts much larger than adults, according to a new study.

Published in ACS' journal, Environmental Science and Technology, it provides the first broadly based information on amounts of the nanomaterial, a source of concern with regard to its potential health and environmental effects, in a wide range of consumer goods e.g. M&Ms and Smarties.

In the study, Paul Westerhoff, Ph.D., and colleagues point out that titanium dioxide is a common additive to many consumer products, from food to paint to cosmetics.

Westerhoff explained that the body releases the nanoparticles in feces and urine, sending them to wastewater treatment plants, which cannot prevent the smallest particles from entering lakes and rivers.

Only one previous study, done a decade ago, reported on titanium dioxide content in a few commercial products.

To fill the knowledge gap about the sources of humans' exposures, the researchers bought and tested food, personal care products, paints and adhesives and measured how much titanium dioxide they contain.


The group found that children consume more titanium dioxide than adults because sweets like candies (M&Ms, Smarties, etc.), marshmallows and icing are among the products with the highest levels.

The paper lists the names of the products tested and their titanium dioxide content.

Westerhoff recommends that regulators shift their focus from the type of titanium dioxide used in paints and industrial processes to food-grade particles, because those are much more likely to enter the environment and pose a potential risk to humans and animals.

Levels of protein SIRT6 appear to impact lifespan of mice

Researchers in Israel have found that genetically altering male mice to cause them to express more of the protein SIRT6 allowed them to live up to fifteen percent longer.

Haim Cohen and colleagues at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, describe in their paper published in Nature, how they veered from following the crowd studying SIRT2 and instead chose to look at SIRT6.

In so doing, they discovered that when the mice under study were caused to express more SIRT6, the older males tended to metabolize sugar at a faster rate than normal, which led, they believe, to protecting them from metabolic disorders and a longer lifespan.

They found that the median lifespan for the transgenic male mice was fourteen and a half percent longer than normal in one line and almost ten percent in another, while there was no statistical difference in the females.

They also measured maximum lifespan and found it grew by nearly sixteen percent in one line of the mice and just over thirteen percent in another. This the group says, shows that mice tend to live longer if they express more SIRT6.

Levels of protein SIRT6 appear to impact lifespan of mice

USB stick can sequence DNA in seconds

It may look like an ordinary USB memory stick, but a little gadget that can sequence DNA while plugged into your laptop could have far-reaching effects on medicine and genetic research.

The UK firm Oxford Nanopore built the device, called MinION, and claims it can sequence simple genomes – like those of some viruses and bacteria – in a matter of seconds.

More complex genomes would take longer, but MinION could also be useful for obtaining quick results in sequencing DNA from cells in a biopsy to look for cancer, for example, or to determine the genetic identity of bone fragments at an archaeological dig.

The company demonstrated today at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) conference in Marco Island, Florida, that MinION has sequenced a simple virus called Phi X, which contains 5000 genetic base pairs.

Proof of principle
This is merely a proof of principle – "Phi X was the first DNA genome to be sequenced ever," says Nick Loman, a bioinformatician at the Pallen research group at the University of Birmingham, UK, and author of the blog Pathogens: Genes and Genomes.

But it shows for the first time that this technology works, he says. "If you can sequence this genome you should be able to sequence larger genomes."

Oxford Nanopore is also building a larger device, GridION, for lab use. Both GridION and MinION operate using the same technology: DNA is added to a solution containing enzymes that bind to the end of each strand.

When a current is applied across the solution these enzymes and DNA are drawn to hundreds of wells in a membrane at the bottom of the solution, each just 10 micrometres in diameter.

Within each well is a modified version of the protein alpha hemolysin (AHL), which has a hollow tube just 10 nanometres wide at its core.

As the DNA is drawn to the pore the enzyme attaches itself to the AHL and begins to unzip the DNA, threading one strand of the double helix through the pore.

The unique electrical characteristics of each base disrupt the current flowing through each pore, enough to determine which of the four bases is passing through it. Each disruption is read by the device, like a tickertape reader.

E.Coli: UCLA Engineers create cell phone-based sensor

Researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a new cell phone–based fluorescent imaging and sensing platform that can detect the presence of the bacterium Escherichia coli in food and water.

The engineers combined antibody functionalized glass capillaries with quantum dots (semiconductors often used for medical imaging) as signal reporters to specifically detect E. coli particles in liquid samples using a lightweight, compact attachment to an existing cell-phone camera.

The cost-effective cell-phone attachment acts as a florescent microscope, quantifying the emitted light from each capillary after the specific capture of E. coli particles within a sample.

By quantifying the florescent light emission from each tube, the concentration of E. coli in the sample can be determined.

E. coli can easily contaminate food and drinking water. It poses a significant threat to public health, even in highly developed parts of the world, and causes a large number of hospitalizations and deaths every year.

As few as 10–100 E. coli particles can kill the cells of the intestinal lining, destroy the kidneys and cause blood clots in the brain, as well as seizures, paralysis and respiratory failure.

This study illustrates the promising potential of a cell phone–enabled, field-portable and cost-effective E. coli detection platform for the screening of both water and food samples.

Authors of the research include UCLA electrical engineering postdoctoral scholar Hongying Zhu; UCLA electrical engineering undergraduate student Uzair Sikora; and UCLA associate professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering Aydogan Ozcan. Ozcan is also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

More information: The research is published in the peer-reviewed journal The Royal Society of Chemistry and is available online at RSC Publishing

Malaria treatment: Impact on disease risk for babies



The UK NHS Information Video is very good at explaining Malaria infections and preventative actions you can take, but it does not go into details of how it affects young women, pregnant women and young breast-feeding mothers.

Recent research has indicated that Mothers who receive treatment for malaria infection could pass on lower levels of natural immunity to their babies.

Edinburgh University experts found mice treated with malaria infection drugs before they became pregnant passed on fewer antibodies to their young.

Full-blown malaria gives the immune system the chance to produce protective antibodies to pass on.

However, it is thought the drug treatment shortens the process.

The mothers benefit while children's immunity is decreased, putting them at greater risk.

The researchers said their results highlighted the need to look at how treatment might be tailored most effectively for women and their babies.

Malaria affects millions of people worldwide, mainly in developing countries. One child dies from the disease in Africa every minute.

Dr Vincent Staszewski, of Edinburgh University's school of biological sciences, said: "How an infection plays out in an individual can impact on the immunity of the next generation.

"Some treatments against disease before or during pregnancy might be beneficial for maternal health but impair infant survival."

The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society.

CERN: OPERA Feb 2012 Update on Neutrinos

The OPERA collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it has identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam.

If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it. The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations.

It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino's time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken.

If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos. The potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the OPERA collaboration.

New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hubble WFC3 Instrument discovers a true water world

Artist
Source: Hubblesite.org
Our solar system contains three types of planets: rocky, terrestrial worlds (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn), and ice giants (Uranus and Neptune).

Planets orbiting distant stars come in an even wider variety, including lava worlds and “hot Jupiters.”

Observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have added a new type of planet to the mix. By analyzing the previously discovered world GJ1214b, astronomer Zachory Berta (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and colleagues proved that it is a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere.

GJ1214b is like no planet we know of,” said Berta. “A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water.”

GJ1214b was discovered in 2009 by the ground-based MEarth (pronounced “mirth”) Project, which is led by CfA’s David Charbonneau.

This super-Earth is about 2.7 times Earth’s diameter and weighs almost 7 times as much.

It orbits a red-dwarf star every 38 hours at a distance of 1.3 million miles, giving it an estimated temperature of 450 ° Fahrenheit.

In 2010, CfA scientist Jacob Bean and colleagues reported that they had measured the atmosphere of GJ1214b, finding it likely that the atmosphere was composed mainly of water.

However, their observations could also be explained by the presence of a world-wide haze in GJ1214b’s atmosphere.

Berta and his co-authors used Hubble’s WFC3 instrument to study GJ1214b when it crossed in front of its host star. During such a transit, the star’s light is filtered through the planet’s atmosphere, giving clues to the mix of gases.

“We’re using Hubble to measure the infrared colour of sunset on this world,” explained Berta.

Hazes are more transparent to infrared light than to visible light, so the Hubble observations help tell the difference between a steamy and a hazy atmosphere.

They found the spectrum of GJ1214b to be featureless over a wide range of wavelengths, or colours. The atmospheric model most consistent with the Hubble data is a dense atmosphere of water vapour.

“The Hubble measurements really tip the balance in favour of a steamy atmosphere,” said Berta.

Since the planet’s mass and size are known, astronomers can calculate the density, which works out to about 2 grams per cubic centimeter.

Water has a density of 1 g/cm3, while Earth’s average density is 5.5 g/cm3. This suggests that GJ1214b has much more water than Earth, and much less rock.

As a result, the internal structure of GJ1214b would be very different than our world.

“The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like ‘hot ice’ or ‘superfluid water’ – substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience,” said Berta.

Theorists expect that GJ1214b formed farther out from its star, where water ice was plentiful, and migrated inward early in the system’s history.

In the process, it would have passed through the star’s habitable zone. How long it lingered there is unknown.

GJ1214b is located in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, and just 40 light-years from Earth.

Therefore, it’s a prime candidate for study by the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

A paper reporting these results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.

This release is being issued jointly with NASA

BrailleTouch App: Helps blind to send text messages

Researchers at Georgia Tech produced the app - to be made available on Apple and Android devices - based on the Braille writing system.

It is claimed typing with the app is up to six times faster than existing methods for texting without sight.

Access to technology for the visually-impaired is a growing issue due to the proliferation of touchscreens.

Experts say currently available tools, such as Apple's Voiceover technology, are functional but too slow to be used effectively.

Brailletouch, which the team hope to release in the next couple of weeks, uses a system that is controlled with six fingers and, crucially, does not require any movement of the hands.

"Users who know how to type Braille well never move their hands," explained Mario Romero, lead researcher on the project.

"When users hold the phone they hold the phone with the screen facing away from them in landscape mode.

"They wrap the index, middle and ring finger in each hand around the phone.

"It's not like the Qwerty keyboard where you move up and down. That's why this thing works - we can get away with only six keys."

"This is not for texting and driving” Mario Romero Lead researcher

Eyes-free kit
Brailletouch will be free and open-source, its makers say, and it is hoped it could even become an "eyes-free" solution for fully-sighted people who want to text while visually pre-occupied with something else.

"Learning to type Braille is learning to memorise where the the dots fall," Mr Romero said.

"It took me and my colleagues a few hours to memorise things so we could start typing at around 10 words per minute. It's not something that takes years.

"We're hoping that, if not Braille, a similar system may solve the issue of having too many keys that are too small that force everybody to look at the screen when they're typing."

However, Mr Romero was quick to dampen any possible hopes that the software could be used to text while behind the wheel.

"They need to concentrate on what they're doing. This is not for texting and driving," he said.

'Truly blind'
Mr Romero highlighted a growing anxiety shared among the blind community that the widespread adoption of touchscreens for many machines and devices is making them "truly blind".

"There is extreme concern about this new trend.

"A lot of equipment today - from copying machines to machines at the gym - is all coming with touch screens."

He added that while research into tactile screens, which give users feedback by moulding, is taking place, we are still some way from having touchscreens which adequately cater for the visually-impaired.

"Blind people say I 'see' things with my fingers," Mr Romero said.

"But on touchscreens they are truly blind."

Google glasses: Streaming info to your eyeballs

When smartphones came out, it seemed like a leap in convenience to be able to carry important information on us at all times, instead of leaving it with our computers.

But soon, it may seem onerous to reach for your phone, turn it on and find the right app to get a piece of information, when you could instead just wear a pair of glasses that directly stream information to your eyeballs.

By year’s end, Google is set to release glasses that do exactly that in real time, so you won’t constantly have to reach into your purse or pocket.

The glasses, which will be Android-based, will cost about as much as a smartphone ($250-$600) and feature a 3G or 4G data connection and GPS and motion sensors and, of course, they’ll sport a screen a few inches away from the eye.

Here are some other key features:
  • A unique navigation system that scrolls and clicks with a tilt of the head: Seth Weintraub, a 9 to 5 Google blogger who broke the story says, “We are told it is very quick to learn and once the user is adept at navigation, it becomes second nature and almost indistinguishable to outside users.”
  • A low-resolution built-in camera: It will monitor the world in real time and overlay relevant information about the location, nearby buildings and friends who happen to be in the area.
  • The ability to send data to the cloud: Then, the wearer can tap into services such as Google Latitude to share his/her location, Google Goggles to search images and figure out what he/she is looking at, Google Maps to find out what else is nearby, and to check in to places.

They’ll look like Oakley Thumps (pictured above), and Google expects that users won’t wear them all the time but only when they want the augmented reality view.

The glasses are being developed at the Google X offices, a secret lab that works on futuristic projects such as robots and space elevators.

"Internally, the Google X team has been actively discussing the privacy implications of the glasses and the company wants to ensure that people know if they are being recorded by someone wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in camera."

For now, Google isn’t yet thinking about developing business models from the glasses, but will wait to see if the glasses take off first.

Meanwhile, Apple is also reportedly working on wearable computing, the inform of a computer that straps around the wrist.

Meanwhile, Google is said to be building a $120 million electronics facility for testing “precision optical technology.”

NASA Image: Antennae Galaxies

This image of the Antennae galaxies is the sharpest yet of this merging pair of galaxies.

During the course of the collision, billions of stars will be formed.

The brightest and most compact of these star birth regions are called super star clusters.

The two spiral galaxies started to interact a few hundred million years ago, making the Antennae galaxies one of the nearest and youngest examples of a pair of colliding galaxies.

Nearly half of the faint objects in the Antennae image are young clusters containing tens of thousands of stars.

The orange blobs to the left and right of image center are the two cores of the original galaxies and consist mainly of old stars criss-crossed by filaments of dust, which appears brown in the image.

The two galaxies are dotted with brilliant blue star-forming regions surrounded by glowing hydrogen gas, appearing in the image in pink.

The new image allows astronomers to better distinguish between the stars and super star clusters created in the collision of two spiral galaxies.

By age dating the clusters in the image, astronomers find that only about 10 percent of the newly formed super star clusters in the Antennae will survive beyond the first 10 million years.

The vast majority of the super star clusters formed during this interaction will disperse, with the individual stars becoming part of the smooth background of the galaxy.

It is however believed that about a hundred of the most massive clusters will survive to form regular globular clusters, similar to the globular clusters found in our own Milky Way galaxy.

The Antennae galaxies take their name from the long antenna-like "arms" extending far out from the nuclei of the two galaxies, best seen by ground-based telescopes.

These "tidal tails" were formed during the initial encounter of the galaxies some 200 to 300 million years ago.

They give us a preview of what may happen when our Milky Way galaxy collides with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in several billion years.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Boosted cyclotrons offers solution to Medical isotope shortage

A Canadian-led team says that it has succeeded in proving the feasibility of using particle accelerators instead of nuclear reactors to produce a badly needed medical isotope. If health regulators approve the method, it will place supplies of the crucial material on a far more secure footing.

“We have found a practical, simple solution,” François Bénard of the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver, said on 20 February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver.

“It's using the existing infrastructure in the best possible way,” agrees Karlheinz Langanke, director of the Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt, Germany, who attended the AAAS presentation but is not involved with the project.

Read more of this article here

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

NASA Chandra Finds Fastest Wind From Stellar-Mass Black Hole

This artist's impression shows a binary system containing a stellar-mass black hole called IGR J17091-3624, or IGR J17091 for short.

The strong gravity of the black hole, on the left, is pulling gas away from a companion star on the right.

This gas forms a disk of hot gas around the black hole, and the wind is driven off this disk.

New observations with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory clocked the fastest wind ever seen blowing off a disk around this stellar-mass black hole.

Stellar-mass black holes are born when extremely massive stars collapse and typically weigh between five and 10 times the mass of the Sun.

The record-breaking wind is moving about twenty million miles per hour, or about three percent the speed of light.

This is nearly ten times faster than had ever been seen from a stellar-mass black hole, and matches some of the fastest winds generated by supermassive black holes, objects millions or billions of times more massive.

Another unanticipated finding is that the wind, which comes from a disk of gas surrounding the black hole, may be carrying away much more material than the black hole is capturing.

The high speed for the wind was estimated from a spectrum made by Chandra in 2011. A spectrum shows how intense the X-rays are at different energies.

Ions emit and absorb distinct features in spectra, which allow scientists to monitor them and their behavior.

A Chandra spectrum of iron ions made two months earlier showed no evidence of the high-speed wind, meaning the wind likely turns on and off over time.

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

OxFord University: Flesh-eating bacteria inspire superglue

A bio-inspired superglue has been developed by Oxford University researchers that can’t be matched for sticking molecules together and not letting go.

It could prove to be a very useful addition to any toolbox for biotechnology or nanotechnology. You could use the glue to grab hold of proteins or stick them immovably to surfaces. You could even use it to assemble proteins and enzymes to build new structures on the nanometre scale.

‘We’re very interested in creating protein assemblies. We want to be able to treat proteins like Lego,’ explains Dr Mark Howarth, who with his graduate student Bijan Zakeri at the Department of Biochemistry developed the superglue. ‘But previously we’ve been limited to ill-controlled processes or have had to build using weak biological interactions.’

The Oxford biochemists came up with their new super-strength molecular glue by engineering an unusual protein from a type of bacteria that can cause life-threatening disease.

While many people carry Streptococcus pyogenes in their throat without any problems, the bacteria can cause infections. Some are mild, like impetigo in infants or a sore throat, but some can kill, like toxic shock syndrome or flesh-eating disease.

What attracted the biochemists’ interest was a specific protein which the bacteria use to bind and invade human cells.

‘The protein is special because it naturally reacts with itself and forms a lock,’ says Mark.

All proteins consist of amino acids linked together into long chains by strong covalent bonds. The long chains are folded and looped up into three-dimensional structures held together by weaker links and associations.

The protein FbaB from S. pyogenes has a 3D structure that is stabilised by another covalent bond. This strong chemical bond forms in an instant and binds the loops of the amino acid chain together with exceptional strength.

Mark and his colleagues reckoned with a bit of engineering they could split the protein around this extra covalent bond. Then, when the two parts were brought together again, they might dock and form this strong bond once more.

The two parts would be locked together immovably – stapling together anything else attached to their tails.That is what the researchers have now demonstrated in this week’s PNAS.

They’ve nicknamed the larger fragment which formed the bulk of the original protein ‘SpyCatcher’. Once SpyCatcher gets hold of the shorter protein segment, ‘SpyTag’, it never lets go.

At least, the researchers with their collaborators at the University of Miami tried to measure the force needed to pull apart SpyTag from SpyCatcher using an atomic force microscope.

But when they pulled on each end, the chemical links holding the proteins to the apparatus broke first. Boiling in detergent won’t separate the protein fragments either.

‘Our system forms rapid covalent bonds with high efficiency and high stability,’ says Mark.

When SpyCatcher and SpyTag are brought together, they bond in minutes with high yield. It doesn’t matter whether it is in acidic or neutral conditions, or whether it is 4°C or 37°C.

They will stick together in test tube reactions or inside cells. And importantly, they don’t stick to other things – there’s no equivalent of getting your fingers stuck to the Airfix model you’re building.

Mark explains that there isn’t really any equivalent way to bind biomolecules together. There are chemical reactions that can join two proteins together covalently but often only small proportions react, they take a long time, or they require UV light, toxic catalysts or reaction conditions that could damage living cells.

The ability to attach SpyCatcher and SpyTag onto other molecules you want to glue together could have many applications. For example, sticking all the enzymes involved in a chemical process into a small factory could speed reactions and increase yields.

Or you might want to bring all the elements together that plants use to turn sunlight into energy with only water as a waste product. Scientists have long wanted to come up with ways of achieving photosynthesis artificially for useable green energy.

But the first uses of the molecular superglue may well be in the research lab, grabbing hold of structures within biological cells. That way you could resist the forces generated by important motors, machines and transporters inside the cell.

Mark and his team are now working on developing the molecular superglue technology through Isis Innovation, the University of Oxford’s technology transfer company.

Major Breathrough in TB Research: Questions answered!

After three decades of searching, the random screening of a group of compounds against the bacterium that causes pulmonary tuberculosis has led scientists to a eureka discovery that breaks through the fortress that protects the bacterium and allows it to survive and persist against treatments.

The two findings, which occurred at Colorado State University, are published today in Nature Chemical Biology.

The article describes the discovery of an important cell function in the mycobacterium that causes tuberculosis which allows the mycobacterium to survive. The researchers also discovered a compound that prevents this cell function.

The bacterium that causes tuberculosis is extremely difficult to kill and current tuberculosis drugs on the market don’t do well to treat it. Six months of multiple antibiotics are generally required to treat tuberculosis in most people, and many current drugs no longer work because of resistant strains of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. Scientists hope that finding new drugs to kill the bacteria in ways different than current drugs will help tackle those strains.

Cell envelopes form a virtually impenetrable bubble around the bacterium cell and protect it. Mycolic acids are key portions of this bacterium’s cell envelope. They are made inside the cell, but have to cross the cell membrane, with the help of a transporter, to reach their final location in the cell envelope.

“Without mycolic acids in the cell envelope, the bacteria die,” said Mary Jackson, one of the leading researchers on the project. Jackson is a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology.

“While randomly testing a group of compounds against the bacterium in the lab, we found one class of compounds that powerfully stops the growth of the bacterium, a significant finding on its own.

When we looked closer, we found that the compounds stopped a transporter from moving mycolic acids from inside to outside the cell, which also means this discovery identified a new method of killing the bacterium.

Scientists have been trying to find the transporter of mycolic acids for decades, knowing that understanding how to stop mycolic acids from reaching the surface of the cell could lead to new tuberculosis treatments.

“If mycolic acids cannot be transported, the tuberculosis bacterium cannot grow,” said Mike McNeil, co-researcher on the project with Jackson and also a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology at CSU.

“It is like a factory making bricks and no way to get them to the construction site. It is a long, hard road to develop new, badly-needed tuberculosis drugs. Still, we are optimistic that this research will strongly contribute to the worldwide crusade to diminish suffering and death caused by tuberculosis.”

Jackson, McNeil and partner researchers from CSU and St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis also note that there are other potential transporters in the bacterium that resemble the one just found.

“We hope that our work also will pave the way to understanding what those transporters do in the cell and finding how to target them to kill the mycobacteria,” Jackson said.

Tuberculosis causes the death of more than 1.5 million people around the globe each year.