Floating wind turbine headed for coast off Fukushima Prefecture.


A floating wind turbine to be used for power generation off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture was towed out of Tokyo Bay on June 28 bound for a deep-sea site where it will be part of an experimental floating power sub-station.

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The turbine was assembled at the Chiba factory of Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Co. in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture. It will be towed to Onahama Port in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

The wind turbine, 80 meters in diameter, made by Hitachi Ltd., was mounted on a 32-meter steel submersible structure constructed by Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding.

Named “Fukushima Mirai (future),” the floating wind farm is a project commissioned by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The ministry hopes to provide for the first time a commercial supply of electricity from a floating power station.

After going through adjustment tests in Onahama Port, the structure will be set up about 20 kilometers off Fukushima Prefecture in 120-meter deep waters, secured to the seabed with iron chains.

The turbine, with a maximum output of 2 megawatts, is expected to start operating in October.

Fukushima Prefecture is home to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The accident at the plant, following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, helped create a scarcity of power as most of the nation’s nuclear reactors were taken offline.

Source: http://ajw.asahi.com

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Exploring dinosaur growth.


Tracking the growth of dinosaurs and how they changed as they grew is difficult. Using a combination of biomechanical analysis and bone histology, palaeontologists from Beijing, Bristol, and Bonn have shown how one of the best-known dinosaurs switched from four feet to two as it grew.

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Psittacosaurus, the ‘parrot dinosaur’ is known from more than 1000 specimens from the Cretaceous, 100 million years ago, of China and other parts of east Asia. As part of his PhD thesis at the University of Bristol, Qi Zhao, now on the staff of the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology in Beijing, carried out the intricate study on bones of babies, juveniles and adults.

Dr Zhao said: “Some of the bones from baby Psittacosaurus were only a few millimetres across, so I had to handle them extremely carefully to be able to make useful bone sections. I also had to be sure to cause as little damage to these valuable specimens as possible.”

With special permission from the Beijing Institute, Zhao sectioned two arm and two leg bones from 16 individual dinosaurs, ranging in age from less than one year to 10 years old, or fully-grown. He did the intricate sectioning work in a special palaeohistology laboratory in Bonn, Germany.

The one-year-olds had long arms and short legs, and scuttled about on all fours soon after hatching. The bone sections showed that the arm bones were growing fastest when the animals were ages one to three years. Then, from four to six years, arm growth slowed down, and the leg bones showed a massive growth spurt, meaning they ended up twice as long as the arms, necessary for an animal that stood up on its hind legs as an adult.

Professor Xing Xu of the Beijing Institute, one of Dr Zhao’s thesis supervisors, said: “This remarkable study, the first of its kind, shows how much information is locked in the bones of dinosaurs. We are delighted the study worked so well, and see many ways to use the new methods to understand even more about the astonishing lives of the dinosaurs.”

Professor Mike Benton of the University of Bristol, Dr Zhao’s other PhD supervisor, said: “These kinds of studies can also throw light on the evolution of a dinosaur like Psittacosaurus. Having four-legged babies and juveniles suggests that at some time in their ancestry, both juveniles and adults were also four-legged, and Psittacosaurus anddinosaurs in general became secondarily bipedal.”

Source: Nature.

UK government backs three-person IVF.


The UK looks set to become the first country to allow the creation of babies using DNA from three people, after the government backed the IVF technique.

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It will produce draft regulations later this year and the procedure could be offered within two years.

Experts say three-person IVF could eliminate debilitating and potentially fatal mitochondrial diseases that are passed on from mother to child.

Opponents say it is unethical and could set the UK on a “slippery slope”.

They also argue that affected couples could adopt or use egg donors instead.

Mitochondria are the tiny, biological “power stations” that give the body energy. They are passed from a mother, through the egg, to her child.

Defective mitochondria affect one in every 6,500 babies. This can leave them starved of energy, resulting in muscle weakness, blindness, heart failure and death in the most extreme cases.

Research suggests that using mitochondria from a donor egg can prevent the diseases.

It is envisaged that up to 10 couples a year would benefit from the treatment.

However, it would result in babies having DNA from two parents and a tiny amount from a third donor as the mitochondria themselves have their own DNA.

‘Clearly sensitive’

Earlier this year, a public consultation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) concluded there was “general support” for the idea and that there was no evidence that the advanced form of IVF was unsafe.

The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: “Scientists have developed ground-breaking new procedures which could stop these disease being passed on, bringing hope to many families seeking to prevent their future children inheriting them.

“It’s only right that we look to introduce this life-saving treatment as soon as we can.”

She said there were “clearly some sensitive issues here” but said she was “personally very comfortable” with altering mitochondria.

Scientists have devised two techniques that allow them to take the genetic information from the mother and place it into the egg of a donor with healthy mitochondria.

The result is a baby with genetic information from three people.

They would have more than 20,000 genes from their parents and 37 mitochondrial genes from a donor.

It is a change that would have ramifications through the generations as scientists would be altering human genetic inheritance.

Objections to the procedure have been raised ever since it was first mooted.

Dr David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert, said: “These techniques are unnecessary and unsafe and were in fact rejected by the majority of consultation responses.

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‘Designer baby’

“It is a disaster that the decision to cross the line that will eventually lead to a eugenic designer baby market should be taken on the basis of an utterly biased and inadequate consultation.”

One of the main concerns raised in the HFEA’s public consultation was of a “slippery slope” which could lead to other forms of genetic modification.

Draft regulations will be produced this year with a final version expected to be debated and voted on in Parliament during 2014.

Newcastle University is pioneering one of the techniques that could be used for three-person IVF.

Prof Doug Turnbull, the director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Research at the university, said he was “delighted”.

He said: “This is excellent news for families with mitochondrial disease.

“This will give women who carry these diseased genes more reproductive choice and the opportunity to have children free of mitochondrial disease. I am very grateful to all those who have supported this work.”

The fine details of the regulations are still uncertain, yet it is expected to be for only the most severe cases.

It is also likely that children would have no right to know who the egg donor was and that any children resulting from the procedure would be monitored closely for the rest of their lives.

Sir John Tooke, the president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Introducing regulations now will ensure that there is no avoidable delay in these treatments reaching affected families once there is sufficient evidence of safety and efficacy.

“It is also a positive step towards ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of cutting-edge research in this area.”

Every time Sharon Bernardi became pregnant, she hoped for a healthy child.

But all seven of her children died from a rare genetic disease that affects the central nervous system – three of them just hours after birth.

When her fourth child, Edward, was born, doctors discovered the disease was caused by a defect in Sharon’s mitochondria.

Edward was given drugs and blood transfusions to prevent the lactic acidosis (a kind of blood poisoning) that had killed his siblings.

Five weeks later Sharon and her husband, Neil, were allowed to take Edward to their home in Sunderland for Christmas – but his health slowly began to deteriorate.

Edward survived into adulthood, dying in 2011 at the age of 21.

Now Sharon is supporting medical research that would allow defective mitochondria to be replaced by DNA from another woman.

Source: BBC

New scheme for quantum computing.


Tom Wong, a graduate student in physics and David Meyer, professor of mathematics at the University of California, San Diego, have proposed a new algorithm for quantum computing, that will speed a particular type of problem. But swifter calculations would come at the cost of greater physical resources devoted to precise timekeeping, their analysis has determined.

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Their algorithm would be used to conduct a task called an unstructured search. The goal is to locate a particular item within an unsorted pile of data. Solving this problem on a classical computer, which uses 1s and 0s stored on magnetic media, is akin to flipping through a deck of cards, one by one, Wong said. Searching through a large data set could take a very long time.

Quantum computing, based on matter held in a quantum state, often for quite brief periods of time, takes advantage of an oddity of the quantum world in which a particle, like a photon or a boson, can exist in more than one state at once, a property called superposition. This would allow multiple possibilities to be considered simultaneously, though once measured, quantum objects will yeild a single answer.

The trick then, is to design algorithms so that wrong answers cancel out and correct answers accumulate. The nature of those algorithms depends on the medium in which information is stored.

Meyer and Wong considered a computer based on a state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate. These are atoms caught in an electromagnetic trap and chilled so cold that they “fall” into a shared lowest quantum state and act as one.

The equation usually used to describe quantum systems is linear, but the one that approximates the state of a Bose-Einstein condensate has a term that is cubed. In a paper published in the New Journal of Physics, they propose computing with this cubic equation which will more rapidly converge on the answer. For example, their algorithm can be made to search for a particular item among a million items in the same time it would take to search among ten items.

“It seems like we’re cheating somehow,” Wong said, exceeding the theoretical maximum speed, but on careful consideration of the resources required to accomplish this, he and Meyer determined that gains in speed would have physical costs.

Because the search is so sudden, timekeeping, which uses an atomic clock, would have to be very precise. This requirement sets a lower limit on the number of ions that make up the atomic clock.

The other resource is the computing medium itself, the Bose-Einstein condensate. “If we want to run this algorithm, we’re going to need a certain number of atoms,” Wong said. “This is how many atoms we need for this nonlinear equation to be valid, to be a correct approximation of the underlying quantum theory. That is new.”

Source: New Journal of Physics

Prevnar Recommended for Immunocompromised Children.


Pneumococcal vaccine recommendations for children aged 6 to 18 at risk for invasive pneumococcal disease have been published in MMWR. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended these changes in February.

Routine 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13, marketed as Prevnar 13) is recommended for children aged 6 to 18 with functional or anatomic asplenia, cochlear implants, cerebrospinal fluid leak, or immunocompromising conditions, such as HIV infection, chronic renal failure, and leukemia.

The MMWR article includes a table detailing recommended use of pneumococcal vaccines in children with different underlying medical conditions.

Source: MMWR

Lithium Reduces Suicide Risk in Mood Disorders.


Lithium is associated with significantly lower risk for suicide and all-cause mortality among both patients with unipolar depression and those with bipolar disorder, according to an updated meta-analysis inBMJ.

The original analysis was published in 2005, and the update incorporates a total of some 50 trials including 6700 patients. The principal findings were that lithium was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing the odds of suicide (odds ratio, 0.13) and death from any cause (OR, 0.38) but not nonfatal self-harm (OR, 0.60; 95% CI, 0.27 to 1.32). A sensitivity analysis found the same results both in unipolar depression and bipolar disorder.

The authors write that, given the 30-fold increased risk for suicide in these patients, “lithium should continue to have an important clinical role.”

Source: BMJ 

At the solar system’s edge, more surprises from Voyager.


Data from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft continues to provide new insight on the outskirts of our solar system, a frontier thought to be the last that Voyager will cross before becoming the first man-made object to reach interstellar space.

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In papers published this week in the journal Science, scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., and other Voyager partner institutions provide more clarity on the region they named the “magnetic highway” in December 2012. Cruising through what scientists describe as a curious, unexpected charged-particle environment, Voyager has detected, for the first time, low-energy galactic cosmic rays, now that particles of the same energy from inside the bubble around our Sun disappeared. As a result, Voyager now sees the highest level so far of particles from outside our solar bubble that originate from the death of other nearby stars. “Voyager 1 may be months or years from leaving the solar system—we just don’t know,” says APL’s Stamatios Krimigis, principal investigator for Voyager’s Low-Energy Charged Particle (LECP) instrument. “But the wait itself is incredibly exciting, since Voyager continues to defy predictions and change the way we think about this mysterious and wonderful gateway region to the galaxy.” Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 and between them visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Since 1990, the twin spacecraft have been on their Interstellar Mission, on track to leave the heliosphere, which is the bubble of magnetic field and charged particles the Sun blows around itself. On Aug. 25, 2012, when Voyager 1 was about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the Sun, the spacecraft reached the so-called magnetic highway where charged particles from inside the heliosphere zoomed out along the magnetic field as cosmic rays from far outside zoomed in. The lack of a detectable change in the direction of that magnetic field, however, convinced scientists that Voyager remained within the Sun’s influence. The new Science papers focus on observations from the summer and fall of 2012 by LECP as well as Voyager 1’s Cosmic Ray and Magnetometer instruments, with additional LECP data through April 2013. “The most dramatic part was how quickly the solar-originating particles disappeared; they decreased in intensity by more than 1,000 times, as if there was a huge vacuum pump at the entrance ramp onto the magnetic highway,” says Krimigis. “We have never witnessed such a decrease before, except when Voyager 1 exited the giant magnetosphere of Jupiter, some 34 years ago.” “Surprisingly, the traveling direction of the ‘inside’ charged particles in this region made a difference, with those moving straightest along the magnetic field lines decreasing most quickly. Those that moved perpendicular to the magnetic field did not change as quickly,” adds LECP Co-investigator Robert Decker, also of APL. The cosmic rays from outside, moving along the field lines, were somewhat more intense than those moving perpendicular to the field, and this imbalance varied significantly with time during the eight months since “It is this time-varying behavior of the cosmic rays that tells us that we’re still in a region controlled by our Sun,” says APL’s Edmond Roelof, also an LECP co-investigator. The multidimensional measurements speak to the unique abilities of the LECP detector, designed at APL in the 1970s. It includes a stepper motor that rotates the instrument through 45-degree steps every 192 seconds, allowing it to gather data in all directions and pick up something as dynamic as the solar wind and galactic particles. The device, designed and tested to work for 500,000 steps and last four years, has been working for nearly 36 years and well past 6 million steps. Voyager 1 is 11.6 billion miles (18.6 billion kilometers) from the Sun, poised to become Earth’s first robotic ambassador to the space between the stars. At 9.4 billion miles (15.1 billion kilometers), Voyager 2 has seen some gradual changes in the charged particles, yet scientists do not think Voyager 2 has reached the magnetic highway. Explore further: Voyager 1 encounters new region in deep space, NASA saysMore information: References: * “Magnetic Field Observations as Voyager 1 Entered the Heliosheath Depletion Region,” L. F. Burlaga, N. F. Ness, and E. C. Stone, Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1235451; www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/06/26/science.1235451.abstract * “Search for the Exit: Voyager 1 at Heliosphere’s Border with the Galaxy,” S. M. Krimigis, R. B. Decker, E. C. Roelof, M. E. Hill, T. P. Armstrong, G. Gloeckler, D. C. Hamilton, and L. J. Lanzerotti, Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1235721; www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/06/26/science.1235721.abstract * “Voyager 1 Observes Low-Energy Galactic Cosmic Rays in a Region Depleted of Heliospheric Ions,” E. C. Stone, A. C. Cummings, F. B. McDonald, B. C. Heikkila, N. Lal, and W. R. Webber, Science, DOI:10.1126/science.1236408; www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/06/26/science.1236408.abstractJournal reference: Science

Mouse cloned from drop of blood.


Scientists in Japan have cloned a mouse from a single drop of blood. Circulating blood cells collected from the tail of a donor mouse were used to produce the clone, a team at the Riken BioResource Center reports in the journal Biology of Reproduction. The female mouse lived a normal lifespan and could give birth to young, say the researchers. Scientists at a linked institute recently created nearly 600 exact genetic copies of one mouse. Mice have been cloned from several different sources of donor cells, including white blood cells found in the lymph nodes, bone marrow and liver.

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This technique would be applicable for generating genetic copies of invaluable strains of mice” Research teamRiken BioResource Center, Tsukuba The Japanese research group investigated whether circulating blood cells could also be used for cloning. Their aim was to find an easily available source of donor cells to clone scientifically valuable strains of laboratory mice. The team, led by Atsuo Ogura, of Riken BioResource Center in Tsukuba, took blood from the tail of a donor mouse, isolated the white blood cells, and used the nuclei for cloning experiments, using the same technique that produced Dolly the sheep in Edinburgh. The process, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, involves transferring the nucleus from an adult body cell – such as a blood or skin cell – into an unfertilised egg that has had its nucleus removed. Reporting their findings in the US journal, Biology of Reproduction, the scientists said the study “demonstrated for the first time that mice could be cloned using the nuclei of peripheral blood cells”. ‘Invaluable strains’ They added: “These cells could be used for cloning immediately after collection and no donor animals need to be euthanised.

The cloning method – somatic cell nuclear transfer

  • Clones of adult animals are produced by a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer, which refers to the transfer of the nucleus from a somatic cell into an egg cell
  • A somatic cell is any cell of the body apart from a germ (sex) cell
  • In cloning, the nucleus of a somatic cell is removed and inserted into a donor unfertilised egg that has had its own nucleus (containing the genetic material) removed
  • The embryo is then placed inside a surrogate mother.

“This technique would be applicable for generating genetic copies of invaluable strains of mice, which cannot be preserved by other assisted reproductive techniques such as conventional in vitro fertilisation or intracytoplasmic sperm injection.” Scientists in Japan have years of experience in cloning mice. A team at a linked institute recently revealed they had produced almost 600 mice from one donor mouse after 25 consecutive rounds of cloning. The research is aimed at large-scale production of high-quality animals for farming or conservation purposes, they say. Commenting on the study, Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the MRC National Institute of Medical Research in London, said it was a useful small advance on previous work showing that it is possible to clone mice from a variety of adult cell types, including white blood cells. He told BBC News: “The efficiency of cloning from these cell types was very good, suggesting that even a small drop of blood will contain sufficient numbers…this is helpful if the intention is to use cloning to propagate and expand numbers of rare or valuable types of individual or species.” Source: BBC

The woman who lost all seven children.


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Sharon Bernardi  lost all seven of her children to a rare genetic disease. It has driven her to support medical research that would allow defective genetic material to be replaced by DNA from another woman.

 

Every time Sharon got pregnant she would pray that this time it would be different.

She felt fine during pregnancy and the births went well, and then quickly something would start to go wrong.

Each of her first three children died within hours of birth and no-one knew why. “It took us a long time to get over the first one and then it happened again. I was bewildered,” says Sharon, from Sunderland. “I was in shock.”

After the third child died, doctors began to suspect that the deaths weren’t coincidental. But genetic investigation didn’t provide any definite answers.

At the same time, her mother revealed that she’d had three stillbirths before Sharon had been born. Further investigations by doctors revealed that members of Sharon’s extended family had lost another eight children between them.

“I didn’t know about my mum’s history,” says Sharon. “There was no need for me to know. I was my mother’s only child. And I think that in her era people didn’t really talk about things as they do now.”

Continue reading the main story

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It’s hard when you want to have a family, and you finally have a baby… and then somebody tells you that at any moment your child is going to die”

Sharon Bernardi

Then along came Edward, Sharon’s fourth child. This time the doctors were more prepared. For his first 48 hours, Edward received drugs and blood transfusions to prevent the lactic acidosis (a kind of blood poisoning) that had killed his siblings. Five weeks later Sharon and her husband Neil were allowed to take Edward to their home in Sunderland for Christmas.

Edward lived. Although his health was often poor and Sharon had to care for him a lot of the time, he was a cheerful, active boy. At the age of four he started to have seizures. It was then that the doctors were finally able to diagnose Edward’s – and indeed Sharon’s – problem.

Having gone through the history of Sharon’s babies, doctors diagnosed Edward with Leigh’s disease, a disorder that affects the central nervous system. The disease is caused by a defect in the mother’s mitochondria, often referred to as the power plant of the cell.

“This is going to sound strange but I was relieved that, at last, I had an answer.”

Not that the news made life much easier for Sharon. Her doctors told her that Edward could enjoy long periods of remission but that his health could also go down quite quickly. And meanwhile there was always the risk of Edward dying in one of his seizures, which could last for days.

“It’s hard when you want to have a family, and you finally have a baby like Edward, and you think you’re finally getting somewhere with your hopes and your dreams, and then somebody tells you that at any moment your child is going to die.”

Sharon and Neil Bernardi were told that Edward was going to die before he was five. “Obviously, you either go down or you start fighting,” says Sharon. Edward and his mother were fighters. In the end Edward survived into adulthood, dying last year at the age of 21.

Sharon and Neil kept on trying for a healthy baby but without luck. Although three more children were born, none lived beyond the age of two. Each time one of their children died, they told themselves that “the death was a one-off”. After their last child had a heart attack and died in 2000 they stopped trying.

“People ask, what was different about Edward? How come he survived as a baby when he had all the problems that would later build up? I don’t know but Edward had some fight in him. He was fighting to survive all his life. I think that was in his personality.”

The death of all her children put strains on her marriage, and on the wider family. “It also affects the family, the grandparents, their hopes and dreams for their grandchildren.”

People have accused Sharon and Neil of being selfish for wanting what they cannot have – their own family of healthy children. “I don’t think I am selfish,” says Sharon. “I wanted my child to be healthy.”

“In the last year of his life Edward was in chronic pain. He had dystonic spasms caused by things going wrong in his brain. His muscles would go into spasm for up to six hours at a time. Drugs could not help him. Part of Edward’s body was beginning to fail.”

The suffering of Sharon’s children has convinced her of the need to pursue the kind of genetic therapies that would allow mitochondrial defects to be remedied.

“When you see somebody in pain you don’t want to see somebody else in pain. You don’t want to see a child who is born only to suffer and die before they’re two, or if they do survive to have devastating disabilities.”

“It’s not about being selfish. It’s not about wanting designer babies. It’s not about doing injustice to people with disabilities. It’s about trying to create a healthy baby. It’s about trying to give a child a future.”

Leigh’s disease

  • Caused by problems in mitochondria – tiny structures that are power stations in every cell
  • Particularly affects brain and nervous system
  • Usually begins in early childhood
  • Early signs include poor sucking ability, loss of head control and loss of acquired motor skills or movement

Source: BBC

We are in the middle of an Education Emergency.


At this moment there are 57 million children without access to education and millions more who aren’t learning in school. Working together, we can lower that number to zero by 2015.

On July 12 — less than a year after she was shot by the Taliban for her strong voice in this fight — Malala Yousafzai will mark her 16th birthday by delivering the highest leadership of the UN a set of education demands written by youth, for youth, to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

We can’t stand on the UN floor next to Malala — but we can all stand with her. Sign this letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to show your demand for emergency action in support for Malala’s education fight.

Dear Mr Secretary-General,

I stand with Malala in demanding that the leaders of the world end our global Education Emergency. After the recent violent murder of 14 girls in Pakistan who simply wanted an education, I support the civil rights struggle of 57 million girls and boys who will not go to school today — or any day. Side by side with Malala, we demand that at the United Nations General Assembly, world leaders agree to fund the new teachers, schools and books we need — and to end child labour, child marriage and child trafficking — so that by December 2015 we meet the Millennium Development goal promise that every boy and girl be at school.

We must be united in this fight, and we must act now. Thank you for standing with us.