Archive for October, 2014

Gene to Reset Immune System

When we fall ill the body usually gets an infection from outside the body. These infectious cells are then engaged in a battle with our immune system, which is like our protective army inside the body. When all the infected cells are defeated the immune system gets reset from attack mode to wait and watch mode. At times the immune system stays in attack mode a bit longer than it needs to and may end up harming other regular cells of our body.

A research team at Duke University has been studying the worm C. elegans by infecting them with the common bacterial pathogen Salmonella enterica. Gene chip technology was used to see what genes were active during the infection and then when the worms were treated by an antibiotic what genes shut down the immune system’s response.

What they discovered was that there was a master switch of sorts in the genes that turned the immune system on and off depending on the state of infection present in the worm. Now this is critical information which was unveiled by the science project that could have a great many practical uses. The way medication is manipulated in the body could change forever if we could turn our immune system on and off at will.


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Eating Chocolate can Improve Your Memory?

If you are still in school and think that’s a cool way to get some extra candy, its not going to happen. A scientific study by Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) scientists seems to say that naturally occurring bioactives found in cocoa tend to help reverse age-related memory decline in healthy older adults.

The concept of dietary intervention, which literally means changing your food habits, is not a new one. Many lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity require a dietary intervention plan designed personally by a nutritionist. Older people also have to watch their food habits carefully in order to ensure that nothing goes wrong in their bodies due to lack of nutrition.

With old age simple cognitive abilities such as remembering the name of a friend of where you left the car keys becomes a problem. A specific part of the brain called the dentate gyrus is associated with this memory decline. Flavanols extracted from cocoa beans have shown a favorable response to neuron connections in mice in previous scientific studies.

In the CUMC experiment 37 healthy volunteers in the  age group of 50 to 69 were given either a high or low flavanol diet. The random selection saw people eating either 900mg or 10 mg flavanol in the day. It was found that the people on the high flavanol diet performed significantly better on the standardized memory test. Perhaps following this science project older people everywhere should start eating more chocolate?

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A Keyboard That Can Tell How You Feel

A computer has been able to do a whole lot that a man can do, but feelings and emotions have been out of the realm of machines, so far. Now a new type of keyboard can deduce your emotions based on your typing style. It has been tested to be accurate more than 80% of the time.

Researchers form Islamic University of Technology from Bangladesh have come up with a software that records your keyboard strokes and text to analyze what you were thinking while typing. They asked volunteers to type in certain sample texts and using the technology developed analyzed the keystrokes and characteristics to see if they could identify the emotional state of the typist.

Currently the software is able to distinguish between seven emotional states such as joy, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame or guilt. The best part of this science project is that no special keyboard or hardware is required to identify the emotions. The software uses basic Java and C# based modules which can be installed into any computer software. These findings could be significant to the development of emotionally aware computer systems as their approach relies on less expensive, and less intrusive, methods than tools like voice analysis, facial sensors, thermal imaging, and gesture tracking.

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The Brain’s GPS

The Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine has been awarded this year to researchers who literally traced the Brain’s GPS. They are John O´Keefe, May‐Britt Moser and Edvard Moser. The latter duo are a husband wife team who have spent years exploring the work of O’ Keefe from the 1970s.

O’ Keefe found in experiments with rats that a certain part of the brain called the hippocampus would signal each time the rat was in a specific area. Different cells corresponded to different areas in the rat’s domain. He called these place cells. They literally pinpointed the place the rat was at.

When some thirty years later May‐Britt and Edvard Moser began exploring these neurons they found that another set of cells in a neighboring part of the brain, the entorhinal cortex, worked as grid cells. These worked like the grids on a map allowing a person to find a specific area of interest.

It is the combination of the place cells and grid cells in the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex that allows human beings to move from where they are to where they want to be, much like how a GPS helps a car in the same manner. This science project has thrown light on how we navigate.


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Throw Some Light On the Nobel Prize

The Physics Nobel prize this year is being awarded to three Japanese scientists who contributed to the invention of blue light emitting diodes. While the LEDs were first invented way back in the 1960s, those were unavailable in the color blue which throw natural looking light. The LEDs in red and green were often used as indicators in complex machinery and electronic gadgets.

However till the 1990s there was no material which would allow scientists to produce a blue LED. LEDs are made from semi conductors that use voltage to move electrons and positive carriers named holes through many layers of a crystal sandwich. When these two come together in the active layer of the crystal sandwich, photons are produced which essentially show up as light.

In this science project the right combination of semiconductor materials and dopants needed to produce blue light had to be found. The Nobel Committee recognized three researchers as contributing equally to this breakthrough. They are Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University in Nagoya and Nagoya University; Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University; and Shuji Nakamura, now of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Thanks to this trio, today we have an ongoing revolution in lighting. Blue LEDs will not only allow us to illuminate our homes and offices in natural light, they will also reduce the cost of energy required for doing so. Now this is a socially useful science project that really deserves the recognition it got.

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