A Momentary Flow

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I Contain Multitudes /Our bodies are a genetic patchwork, possessing variation from cell to cell. Is that a good thing? / Your DNA is supposed to be your blueprint, your unique master code, identical in every one of your tens of trillions of cells. It is why you are you, indivisible and whole, consistent from tip to toe. But that’s really just a biological fairy tale. In reality, you are an assemblage of genetically distinctive cells, some of which have radically different operating instructions. This fact has only become clear in the last decade. Even though each of your cells supposedly contains a replica of the DNA in the fertilized egg that began your life, mutations, copying errors and editing mistakes began modifying that code as soon as your zygote self began to divide. In your adult body, your DNA is peppered by pinpoint mutations, riddled with repeated or rearranged or missing information, even lacking huge chromosome-sized chunks. Your data is hopelessly corrupt. Most genome scientists assume that this DNA diversity, called “somatic mutation” or “structural variation,” is bad. Mutations and other genetic changes can alter the function of the cell, usually for the worse. Disorderly DNA is a hallmark of cancers, and genomic variation can cause a suite of brain disorders and malformations. It makes sense: Cells working off garbled information probably don’t function very well. Most research to date has focused on how aberrant DNA drives disease, but even healthy bodies harbor genetic disorder. In the last few years, some researchers report that anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of brain cells and between 30 and 90 percent of human liver cells are aneuploid, meaning that one entire chromosome is either missing or duplicated. Copy number variations, in which chunks of DNA between 100 and a few million letters in length are multiplied or eliminated, also seem to be widespread in healthy people. (via Our Body as Genetic Patchwork: Helpful or Hurtful? | Simons Foundation)

I Contain Multitudes
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Our bodies are a genetic patchwork, possessing variation from cell to cell. Is that a good thing?
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Your DNA is supposed to be your blueprint, your unique master code, identical in every one of your tens of trillions of cells. It is why you are you, indivisible and whole, consistent from tip to toe. But that’s really just a biological fairy tale. In reality, you are an assemblage of genetically distinctive cells, some of which have radically different operating instructions. This fact has only become clear in the last decade. Even though each of your cells supposedly contains a replica of the DNA in the fertilized egg that began your life, mutations, copying errors and editing mistakes began modifying that code as soon as your zygote self began to divide. In your adult body, your DNA is peppered by pinpoint mutations, riddled with repeated or rearranged or missing information, even lacking huge chromosome-sized chunks. Your data is hopelessly corrupt. Most genome scientists assume that this DNA diversity, called “somatic mutation” or “structural variation,” is bad. Mutations and other genetic changes can alter the function of the cell, usually for the worse. Disorderly DNA is a hallmark of cancers, and genomic variation can cause a suite of brain disorders and malformations. It makes sense: Cells working off garbled information probably don’t function very well. Most research to date has focused on how aberrant DNA drives disease, but even healthy bodies harbor genetic disorder. In the last few years, some researchers report that anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of brain cells and between 30 and 90 percent of human liver cells are aneuploid, meaning that one entire chromosome is either missing or duplicated. Copy number variations, in which chunks of DNA between 100 and a few million letters in length are multiplied or eliminated, also seem to be widespread in healthy people. (via Our Body as Genetic Patchwork: Helpful or Hurtful? | Simons Foundation)

Clear material on windows harvests solar energy - A new type of “transparent” solar concentrator can be used on windows or mobile devices to harvest solar energy without obscuring the view. Past efforts to create similar materials have been disappointing, with inefficient energy production or highly colored materials. “No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” says Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.” The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight. “We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he says. The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic, where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells. “Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt says. (via Clear material on windows harvests solar energy - Futurity)

Clear material on windows harvests solar energy
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A new type of “transparent” solar concentrator can be used on windows or mobile devices to harvest solar energy without obscuring the view. Past efforts to create similar materials have been disappointing, with inefficient energy production or highly colored materials. “No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” says Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.” The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight. “We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he says. The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic, where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells. “Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt says. (via Clear material on windows harvests solar energy - Futurity)

How Microscopic Ocean Life May Help Make It Rain
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SAN FRANCISCO—Clouds can carry millions of pounds of water, but that doesn’t mean rain and snow just happen. Hundreds of thousands of water vapor molecules need to freeze together as ice before they are heavy enough to fall to the ground. But, the water molecules need a bit of dust or other microscopic matter to latch onto in order to get started, and some of the best bits for forming ice are pieces of once-living cells. Scientists now believe a lot of the organic matter in clouds is released into the air by breaking waves in the ocean. In a presentation Aug. 13 here at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting, atmospheric chemist Kim Prather of UC San Diego said that wave spray might be an important contributor to rain and snow fall. She is the director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment , a research group that is measuring the organic particles released from waves, and matching those to particles they’ve found in rain- and snow-bearing clouds. In the dry west, rain usually forms first as ice. But, ice isn’t a temperature, it’s a structure. It forms when the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water molecules lock together in a hexagonal pattern that looks like chicken wire. When enough water particles freeze together, they become heavy enough to fall to the ground. If the air below the cloud is warm enough, the ice bits melt into liquid rain. Otherwise, it falls as snow or freezing rain.
Scientists have known for a long time that rain drops form around particles in the clouds, called condensation nuclei. (On their own, water molecules won’t form ice until they reach -36° F.) But, not all condensation nuclei are created equal. Ice can form around pollution particles, but because they are too small and reflective, the ice tends to melt before it gathers enough to fall. On mineral dust, ice won’t form above 5° F. Itty bits of organic matter have a lattice pattern that closely resembles the hexagonal molecular structure of ice. These particles can gather ice at temperatures up 32° F. (via How Microscopic Ocean Life May Help Make It Rain | Science | WIRED)

How Microscopic Ocean Life May Help Make It Rain
-
SAN FRANCISCO—Clouds can carry millions of pounds of water, but that doesn’t mean rain and snow just happen. Hundreds of thousands of water vapor molecules need to freeze together as ice before they are heavy enough to fall to the ground. But, the water molecules need a bit of dust or other microscopic matter to latch onto in order to get started, and some of the best bits for forming ice are pieces of once-living cells. Scientists now believe a lot of the organic matter in clouds is released into the air by breaking waves in the ocean. In a presentation Aug. 13 here at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting, atmospheric chemist Kim Prather of UC San Diego said that wave spray might be an important contributor to rain and snow fall. She is the director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment , a research group that is measuring the organic particles released from waves, and matching those to particles they’ve found in rain- and snow-bearing clouds. In the dry west, rain usually forms first as ice. But, ice isn’t a temperature, it’s a structure. It forms when the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water molecules lock together in a hexagonal pattern that looks like chicken wire. When enough water particles freeze together, they become heavy enough to fall to the ground. If the air below the cloud is warm enough, the ice bits melt into liquid rain. Otherwise, it falls as snow or freezing rain.
Scientists have known for a long time that rain drops form around particles in the clouds, called condensation nuclei. (On their own, water molecules won’t form ice until they reach -36° F.) But, not all condensation nuclei are created equal. Ice can form around pollution particles, but because they are too small and reflective, the ice tends to melt before it gathers enough to fall. On mineral dust, ice won’t form above 5° F. Itty bits of organic matter have a lattice pattern that closely resembles the hexagonal molecular structure of ice. These particles can gather ice at temperatures up 32° F. (via How Microscopic Ocean Life May Help Make It Rain | Science | WIRED)

“One of the ways we started thinking about this was in a crime-novel perspective,” said Carlo C. Maley, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and a co-author of the new paper. “What are the means, motives and opportunity for the microbes to manipulate us? They have all three.” The idea that a simple organism could control a complex animal may sound like science fiction. In fact, there are many well-documented examples of parasites controlling their hosts.

Our Microbiome May Be Looking Out for Itself - NYTimes.com

Thousand-strong robot swarm throws shapes, slowly
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Engineers in the US have built a swarm of 1,000 little robots that can shuffle into specific formations on command.
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 Each of the identical robots is given a picture of the required shape, and then they work together to make it happen. It takes up to 12 hours, but then this is the biggest throng of robots ever built and studied in this way. Inspired by biological examples, like cells forming organs or ants building bridges, the work could help develop self-assembling tools and structures. “Each robot is identical and we give them all the exact same program,” explained Dr Michael Rubenstein, the first author of the study, which is published in Science. “The only thing they have to go on, to make decisions, is what their neighbours are doing.” (via BBC News - Thousand-strong robot swarm throws shapes, slowly)