SciTech Briefs

Synthetic bacteria able to survive with small gene amount

A biotech researcher and member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival’s Advisory Board, J. Craig Venter, along with a team of researchers, published their findings on their synthesis of the first bacterial cell. Known as JCVI-syn3.0, the bacterium contained 473 genes, the minimal amount of genetic material that the researchers determined was needed for the bacterium to live.

Lasting for five years, the bacterium was first created when the researchers replicated the one of the smallest genomes in nature from M. mycoides, and transplanted the genome into another species, the Mycoplasma capricolum. The point of this research is to note that an organism can survive and live a healthy life with only a small number of genes. If even a single one of these genes were taken out, the synthetic bacterium would fail to survive.

Researchers only expected about 5 to 10 percent of these genes to be critically important, demonstrating the researchers’ lack of understanding of role of those genes as well as the minimal genetic requirements for life.

Source: Discovery News

Super-eruptions in Yellowstone larger than expected

A team of U.S., British, and Danish collaborators found evidence that 12 giant, ancient eruptions that occurred in the Central Snake River Plain in Idaho were actually larger than was previously thought, rivaling the notorious eruptions that took place in Yellowstone millions of years ago.

By employing whole rock and mineral chemistries, palaeo-magnetic data, and radio-isotopic dates, the researchers identified individual eruption deposits and then correlated that data over larger regions. According to one of the researchers, Tom Knott from the University of Leceister, the eruptions in Yellowstone were only a sample of the series of ancient super-eruptions extending along the Snake River from Oregon to Yellowstone.

These eruptions are thought to have occurred in the past 16 million years. For example, one report suggests that an eruption in southern Idaho covered over 14,000 kilometers-squared and 1.3 km, much greater than the super-eruption in Yellowstone that had an eruption volume of 1,900 kilometers-cubed.

Source: ScienceDaily

New catalyst better at splitting water by 300 percent

Scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Toronto have created a new kind of catalyst that can decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen, a method that is used to store electricity generated by solar and wind power.

The catalyst can decompose water at a rate that is three times better than the previous record holder. According to Aleksandra Vojvodic, a SLAC staff scientist, production of the catalyst does not require extremely advanced tools.

Furthermore, the new catalyst is also one of the most inexpensive on the market, as it is made of three abundant metals — iron, cobalt, and tungsten. Vojvodic and colleagues from the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis used powerful computational tools to determine the effect an addition of tungsten has on catalyst’s activity. They then used their findings to develop a novel method to uniformly distribute the three metals by creating a gel that was later dried into powder.

Source: ScienceDaily

Vegan diets could reduce climate change emissions

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that reducing the consumption of meat, while increasing the consumption of fruits and vegetables, could lead to improved health and decreased carbon emissions. Researchers at Oxford University found that adoption of global guidelines on diet, which limits red meat and encourages produce consumption, could prevent 5.1 million deaths per year and reduce food-related emissions by 29 percent.

Furthermore, a global adoption of a vegan diet would result in 8.1 million fewer deaths and a 70 percent reduction in emissions. Additionally, dietary shifts could lead to monetary savings in healthcare.

While the lead author and post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Population Health, Marco Springmann, states that it is not expected that everyone will become vegan, he said that switching to a more healthy and environmentally-friendly diet could lead to overall global improvement.

Source: NBC news

Microsoft’s teenage chatbot corrupted by Internet users

Last Thursday, Microsoft shut down its artificial intelligence program Tay, which was a chatbot that learned how to interact with 18-24-year olds through its conversations online, via platforms like Twitter, Kik and GroupMe. Designed to be engaging and entertaining, Tay could be contacted via her Twitter address and other online platforms, including Kik or GroupMe. Within a day of Tay’s release, the chatbot began making racist and sexist comments as a result of abuse by some users.

Others found that it was difficult to have substantial conversations with the chatbot about various topics, including music and television. Microsoft has apologized for the inflammatory comments and deleted most of the bot’s tweets. They covered up this move by saying that Tay was tired and needed to rest.

While the the company is currently making some adjustments to the bot, many followers urge Microsoft to allow Tay to learn about what is right and wrong autonomously, rather than being interrupted mid-experiment.

Source: BBC news

Astronomers see huge supernova’s shockwave blast

From the Kepler Space Telescope, an international team of astronomers were able to see a shockwave for the first time, due to the display of normal visible colors. The shockwave was seen near a red giant that was 270 times the radius of the sun and was the smaller of two old stars that were being observed by the astronomers.

After running out of fuel, the star started to compress on its central core so much that a reciprocal, outward force was triggered, creating the explosion of an aging giant star that resulted in a shockwave. In contrast, the other star, which had 400 times the radius of the sun, did not show signs of a shockwave.

As stated by co-author Brad Tucker, from Australian National University, the researchers believed that the larger size of the star made the escape of the shockwave more difficult. The discovery is currently in the process of being published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Source: Discovery News