Digital Genetics

The science of heat

by on Sep.30, 2011, under nature, science

YOUR EYES ARE WATERING, your nose is running, and your mouth feels like an inferno. Instinctively, you reach for the glass of cold water in front of you and slosh the liquid down your throat. To your dismay, the water does almost nothing to douse the flames. If only you’d had a glass of full-cream milk – after all, that’s the common cure for chilli heat. Or is it?

http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/why-chillies-are-hot-the-science-behind-the-heat.htm

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Caught Speeding?

by on Sep.23, 2011, under cool, science, technology

In a recent article posted on the BBC website, Scientists have found that some subatomic particles have appeared to exceed the speed of light. This find once fully explored and fully documented could have significant impacts on our current understanding of physics.

Jason Palmer writes:

Puzzling results from Cern, home of the LHC, have confounded physicists – because it appears subatomic particles have exceeded the speed of light.

Neutrinos sent through the ground from Cern toward the Gran Sasso laboratory 732km away seemed to show up a tiny fraction of a second early.

The result – which threatens to upend a century of physics – will be put online for scrutiny by other scientists.

To read the full article, visit:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15017484

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Researchers build Life-like cells made of metal

by on Sep.16, 2011, under cool, science, technology

Katherine Sanderson from NewScientist writes:

He has managed to build cell-like bubbles from giant metal-containing molecules and has given them some life-like properties. He now hopes to induce them to evolve into fully inorganic self-replicating entities.

“I am 100 per cent positive that we can get evolution to work outside organic biology,” says Lee Cronin at the University of Glasgow. His building blocks are large “polyoxometalates” made of a range of metal atoms – most recently tungsten – linked to oxygen and phosphorus. By simply mixing them in solution, he can get them to self-assemble into cell-like spheres.

This research certainly pushes our understanding of life into fascinating areas, whilst also raising some interesting debate. I personally am fascinated by the prospect and possible application of this technology in the realm of robotics.

To read the full article, visit:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20906-lifelike-cells-are-made-of-metal.html

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Liquefication, promession & the mushroom death suit

by on Aug.31, 2011, under cool, nature, science, Society, technology

Have you ever considered the manner in which your body is disposed of when you die? Often I have pondered my existence on this comparatively tiny blue planet of ours, but never have I really considered this.

Until recently I thought that there were really only two options, burial and cremation, but prompted by a recent article by Neil Bowdler on the BBC News website, I started to research the subject in more depth, and now I realise that body disposal has become quite creative.

In his article, titled “New body ‘liquefaction’ unit unveiled in Florida funeral home‘ neil describes a device which works by:

Submerging the body in a solution of water and potassium hydroxide which is pressurised to 10 atmospheres and heated to 180C for between two-and-a-half and three hours.
Body tissue is dissolved and the liquid poured into the municipal water system. Mr Sullivan, a biochemist by training, says tests have proven the effluent is sterile and contains no DNA, and poses no environmental risk.

Whilst it may seem macarbe, this technique is far more environmentally friendly that tradition cremation techniques. For example, through the use of cremation, a single person can contribute over 200kg of air emissions.


Fig 1
the “alkaline hydrolysis” unit installed at a Florida funeral home.

In contrast to this method, Neil also discusses an alternate approach titled ‘Promession’. Promession is the brain child of a Swedish biologist named Susanne Wiigh-Masak, and is likened to a method of composting.

Promession is described as:

The process involves a fully automated and patented machine. Coffins are fed in one end, and the body removed from the coffin within the unit and then treated with liquid nitrogen.

The body is then vibrated until the body fragments, after which the remains are dried and refined further, and then passed through filters to remove metals, including dental amalgam. The remains are then poured into a square biodegradable coffin, again automatically, for shallow burial.

The combination of the tiny body fragments and the square biodegradable coffin, results in a smaller burial plot and hastens the decomposition process. Whilst I like the sound of my body getting so jiggy with it, that it breaks into thousands of pieces allowing for bite sized morsels for all sorts of soil bacteria and underground creatures, it is nowhere near as cool as the mushroom death suit!

The mushroom death suit is the work of an artist by the name of Jae Rhim Lee. Basicallly, it is a body suit embroidered with thread infused with mushroom spores. The design of which is inspired by the dendritic growth of mushroom mycelium.

According to Jae Rhim Lee the suit:

Is accompanied by an Alternative Embalming Fluid, a liquid spore slurry, and Decompiculture Makeup, a two-part makeup consisting of a mixture of dry mineral makeup and dried mushroom spores and a separate liquid culture medium. Combining the two parts and applying them to the body activates the mushroom spores to develop and grow.

The project is currently growing and training various mushroom cultivars in the hope of producing what she refers to as the ‘infinity mushroom’.

Jae Rhim Lee is training fungi to consume her own body tissue and excretions–skin, hair, nails, blood, bone, fat, tears, urine, feces, and sweat. The fungi have been chosen for their potential to utilize the nutrients in human tissue and to remediate industrial toxins in soil.

How do you plan to go in the end?

To read Neil Bowdler’s full article on liquefication and promession, visit:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14114555

To learn more about the mushroom death suit, visit:
http://infinityburialproject.com/mushroom

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Human skin which is nearly bulletproof?

by on Aug.22, 2011, under cool, science, technology

After spending a weekend watching the Hulk, the news of human skin which is nearly bulletproof was simply too intriguing to pass up.

Apparently, Researchers from the 2.6g 329m/s project (the maximum weight and velocity of a .22 calibre Long Rifle bullet from which a Type 1 bulletproof vest should protect you) have been working on combining the mechanical strengths of spidersilk thread and the frailties of human skin.

Essaidi says, “By implementing this bulletproof matrix of spider silk produced by transgenic goats in human skin I want to explore the social, political, ethical and cultural issues surrounding safety in a world with access to new biotechnologies. Issues which arise on the basis of ancient human desire for invulnerability. It is legend that Achilles, the central character of Homer’s Iliad was invulnerable in all of his body except for his heel. Will we in the near future due to biotechnology no longer need to descend from a godly bloodline in order to have traits like invulnerability?”

Although the newly produced material could only prevent a partially slowed bullet, it did prove to be a success.

Parrallel to this project, there has been great advances in the field of reconstructive plastic surgery. A tissue engineer by the name of Hanna Wendt, and her colleagues in the Department of Plastic, Hand and Reconstructive Surgery at Medical School Hannover in Germany, has recently published a study that suggests spider silk may hold the key to creating artificial skin for burn victims and other patients requiring skin grafts.

“Spider silks display excellent mechanical features that even rival man-made, high-tech fibers,” the study explains.

A matrix of spider silk is delicately woven onto a steel frame, resulting in a meshwork frame, upon which, given the right conditions of warm, nutrients and air, skin cells could flourish.

The full article on this amazing research is available here:
http://www.livescience.com/15443-artificial-skin-spun-spider-silk.html

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An Age of Rage?

by on Jul.26, 2011, under Internet, Psychology, Society

Tim Adams (The Observer) in his article ‘How the internet created an age of rage’, details his argument that the internet has created a cloak of anonymity, allowing its netizens the freedom (or deindividuation) to descend into new levels of hatred.

Here is an excerpt of the article:

“The worldwide web has made critics of us all. But with commenters able to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, the blog and chatroom have become forums for hatred and bile. … The psychologists call it ‘deindividuation.’ It’s what happens when social norms are withdrawn because identities are concealed. The classic deindividuation experiment concerned American children at Halloween. Trick-or-treaters were invited to take sweets left in the hall of a house on a table on which there was also a sum of money. When children arrived singly, and not wearing masks, only 8% of them stole any of the money. When they were in larger groups, with their identities concealed by fancy dress, that number rose to 80%. The combination of a faceless crowd and personal anonymity provoked individuals into breaking rules that under ‘normal’ circumstances they would not have considered. … One simple antidote to this seems to rest in the very old-fashioned idea of standing by your good name. Adopt a pseudonym and you are not putting much of yourself on the line. Put your name to something and your words are freighted with responsibility.”

For the full article, visit http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/jul/24/internet-anonymity-trolling-tim-adams

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Philip Zimbardo shows how people become monsters … or heroes

by on Jul.21, 2011, under Psychology, Society

Philip Zimbardo is an American Psychologist, best know for his work on the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this TED video, Philip presents  a seemingly positive message encapsulated within a disturbing view of human nature & psychology.

Warning: This video contains graphic imagery of a disturbing nature

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Protecting your online presence

by on Jun.14, 2011, under Internet, Security, Society, technology

Imagine you were one of the millions of account holders which were recently compromised when sony’s security was breached by hackers! It was not simply credit card details which were stolen, but personal details as well. Unfortunately, events like these are becoming increasingly common.

Protecting your online presence extends beyond simply thinking about what information you share on social media sites.  So what exactly can each of us do to ensure that we protect our privacy online? the answer to this is simple:

  • Limit the personal information you reveal. Just because a website is asking for personal details, that doesnt mean you are obligated to provide that information. In fact, you make it easier for identity thieves when you make lots of information about yourself public.
  • Think about how you are disposing of your personal documents – A shredder is a cost-effective way to safely destroy personal documents, and the resulting waste can be easily recycled or even used in the garden as mulch.
  • Avoid making online purchases or checking banks or investment websites on a public Wi-Fi network (ie. free internet at mcdonalds or your favourite coffee shop, internet cafe’s etc).
  • NEVER use the same passwords between websites. If the details from one website or organisation is compromised, then your banking and social media accounts such as facebook or twitter may also be compromised as well.
  • Check online privacy settings so you are aware of how your information is used – Find out what someone else intends to do with your information, exercise your right to choose who sees your posts when social networking and ‘opt out’ of receiving marketing material from third parties (if you choose to).

For help choosing suitably strong passwords for your favourite websites, checkout the following youtube video titled ‘How to choose a strong password – simple tips for better security‘.

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The Cicada Principle and Why It Matters to Web Designers

by on Apr.08, 2011, under development, Internet, web design

One would not have first thought that the amazing world of cicada spawning cycles and web design have anything in common at all. However, through this insightful article, Alex Walker shows us that irregularity in our designs can lead to beautiful solutions.

when you notice a distinctive feature — for instance, a knot in some woodgrain — repeating at regular intervals, it really breaks the illusion of organic randomness. Maybe we borrow some ideas from cicadas to break that pattern?

To read more, visit:
http://designfestival.com/the-cicada-principle-and-why-it-matters-to-web-designers/

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MIT Scientist Captures 90,000 Hours of Video of His Son’s First Words & Graphs It

by on Mar.08, 2011, under Family, Psychology, science, Society

MIT cognitive scientist Deb Roy, started a project five years ago, upon bringing his newborn son home from the hospital, to record his family’s movement and speech inside their house. Since then, Roy has used various techniques to analyze and distill the 200 terabytes of raw data into useful and interesting visualizations.

“For example, Roy was able to track the length of every sentence spoken to the child in which a particular word — like ‘water’ — was included. Right around the time the child started to say the word, what Roy calls the ‘word birth,’ something remarkable happened. ‘Caregiver speech dipped to a minimum and slowly ascended back out in complexity.’ In other words, when mom and dad and nanny first hear a child speaking a word, they unconsciously stress it by repeating it back to him all by itself or in very short sentences. Then as he gets the word, the sentences lengthen again. The infant shapes the caregivers’ behavior, the better to learn.”

Roy also compiled videos showing each time his son used certain words over a period of many months, clearly illustrating how those parts of the child’s linguistic capabilities evolved over time.

Click here for the full length article

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