Recruiting E. coli to combat hard-to-treat bacterial infections.

The notorious bacteria E. coli is best known for making people sick, but scientists have reprogrammed the microbe — which also comes in harmless varieties —  to make it seek out and fight other disease-causing pathogens. The researchers’ report appears in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology and describes development of this new type of E. coli that can even kill off slimy groups of bacteria called biofilms that are responsible for many hard-to-treat infections, such as those that take hold in the lungs, the bladder and on implanted medical devices.

Matthew Wook Chang and colleagues explain that biofilm infections are difficult to treat because the bacteria hide away under a protective barrier of sugars, DNA and proteins. That shield makes them very resistant to conventional therapies. In addition, overuse of antibiotics in medicine and agriculture also have made some bacteria, such as MRSA, shrug off most known treatments, making at least 2 million Americans sick every year. This growing public health threat has motivated scientists to look for new antibiotics and alternative treatments to beat infections. In the past, researchers made bacteria that fight off other microbes, but they had limitations. Chang’s team addressed those limitations by making a new kind of bacterial “gun-for-hire” that can sense an infection, swim toward it and kill off the disease-causing microbes.

They reprogrammed E. coli to sense Pseudomonas aeruginosa — a bacteria that can form biofilms and causes hospital-acquired infections in the lungs and the gut. The new E. colithen swims directly toward P. aeruginosa and launches an attack with an antimicrobial peptide and an enzyme that breaks down biofilms. Though the researchers successfully tested their engineered microbe on P. aeruginosa, they say that their engineering strategy could be used to combat other pathogens as well.

Sun set for 11-yr magnetic pole flip.

A special event is about to occur in our sun, and it could impact our lives. The magnetic poles of the sun — which are like the ends of a giant bar magnet — are about to flip, that is, the polar north will become the polar south and vice versa. According to scientists at the Wilcox Solar Observatory at Stanford University , the sun could be barely two to three months away from this magnetic field reversal. The change is periodic, taking place once every 11 years or so.
The flip also corresponds with peak activity during the 11-year solar cycle. This is when sunspots — intense magnetic

field flu.
Flactuation that appear as dark spots on the solar surface — are highest in number. “When the number of sunspots is highest, a time known as the solar maximum, the sun’s large-scale dipole magnetic field starts reversing. This reversal is akin to sun’s magnetic poles flipping. It’s almost as if a giant magnet inside the sun was turned upside down,” said Dibyendu Nandi, an a strop hysicist at Kolkata’s Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.Why does this flip take place? Nandi said that the periodic reversal was linked to the motion of plasma flows inside the sun. The flow of this hot, electrically-charged material tosses and turns one component of the magnetic field into another, eventually changing the sun’s dipole field. “This process is technically known as the solar dynamo mechanism and can be studied using computer models which we dolu in our laboratories,” Nandi said. Changes in the sun’s magnetic field ripple through the solar system and beyond, a region known as the heliosphere. The weather in space is expected to be most hazardous in the next few months as the flip begins to take place, Nandi said.”The chances of solar magnetic storms occurring are also high. These storms carry a vast amount of charged particles and magnetic fields through interplanetary space and can pose a threat to satellite operations , telecommunications , air traffic on polar routes and power grids in countries at high latitudes ,” the scientist said.

Scientists are watching the event closely to fully understand the changes that take place. It’s also of special interest because the current solar cycle — the 24th since 1755, when sunspot activity began to be recorded — is one of the weakest in 100 years. A strong solar magnetic field also acts as a shield against cosmic rays coming from outer space. “Due to the current weak cycle, we have been recording high cosmic ray influx since 2009,” said B N Dwivedi of IIT-BHU.

In India, solar magnetic fields are being observed from the solar observatories at Udaipur and Kodaikanal. Then there are theoretical astrophysicists such as Nandi who build computer models to study and predict solar behaviour.

World’s biggest volcano is hiding.

The solar system’s biggest known volcano, Olympus Mons, towers 20 kilometers above the surface of Mars. The second biggest is an Earthly giant, new research shows. This Tamu Massif is currently sleeping with the fishes some2 kilometers (1.2 miles) below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.


Until recently, volcanologists — volcano scientists — had assumed Tamu Massif consisted of several volcanoes squished together. And if that were true, “nobody would have paid it much attention,” says William Sager. This geophysicist works at the University of Houston in Texas. “What’s really special is that it is one big volcanic mountain,” he says. Sager and his coworkers reported the data showing this Sept. 8 in Nature Geoscience.

A massif, which comes from the French word for massive, is a portion of Earth’s crust that is indeed massive, dense and rigid. The term often applies to one or more mountains that are independent of the rest of the range in which they reside. In the middle 1990s, Sager and a coworker named this ginormous underwater massif for the university at which they were then working: Texas A&M University, or TAMU.

The volcano resembles an overturned bowl. But covering roughly 30,000 square kilometers (11,580 square miles), its footprint exceeds the size of Massachusetts. This mound gently rises into a hump that sits 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) above its base. Yet only about 3 kilometers of its bulk is visible above the ocean floor; the rest is wedged deep within Earth’s crust.

That’s in stark contrast to Olympus Mons. The Martian volcano sits atop a thick, rigid skin of rock. That skin supports the mountain much like a dish of Greek yogurt would support an ice cube, Sager says. The cube may settle lightly into the yogurt; it wouldn’t sink far down. But put that ice into a glass of water, and all but a small portion of the cube will float below the surface. That sort of describes Tamu Massif, Sager says. The portion of Earth’s crust where the volcano sits can’t support most of the weight of this dense mass of rock. That’s why most of the mountain resides below the ocean floor.

So despite its deceptively small height above the seafloor, this behemoth encompasses a volume of rock only about 20 percent smaller than Olympus Mons.

Shaped like a mega-bowl

Scientists have known for roughly a century about the mountain range in which Tamu Massif sits. But it never got much attention. And it’s easy to see why. Visiting requires a four-day cruise from Japan or a 10-day trip from Hawaii to a part of the northwest Pacific that Sager describes as “basically in the middle of nowhere.” And then test equipment has to plunge down, down, down through the water.

What the monitoring equipment would encounter is a roughly 145 million-year-old mega-mound. It’s about 50 times the size of Hawaii’s famed Mauna Loa, notes Sager. Tamu Massif lacks the characteristic sharp cone of volcanoes like Oregon’s Mount Hood or Japan’s Mount Fuji. Instead, the rocky flanks of the hiding mammoth rise only gently from the seafloor.

During a series of long cruises between 2010 and 2012, Sager and his coworkers probed this mountain with sound waves and drill bits. Their data now show a single, mammoth volcano that had periodically erupted during a short, million-year growth spurt. Some of the eruptions deposited immense sheets of lava up to 22.9 meters (75 feet) thick. These spewed out and down in all directions from a central vent atop the mound.

The lava traveled long distances, flowingalmost like thick pancake batter. What made this possible, Sager suspects, was the ocean’s quick cooling of the lava’s topmost layer. A skin would have developed, creating a thin blanket of rock. Protected by this insulating blanket, most of the lava would remain piping hot and mobile for a long time. So instead of creating a sharply peaked cone, like Mt. Fuji, this volcano created a slowly rising mound, one that over time grew to enormous size.

Drilling data show that Tamu Massif emerged at the edge of two tectonic plates. Think of the region, Sager says, “as a crack that forms where you pull two plates apart.” Suddenly, magma would have emerged from this so-called spreading center. Not all volcanoes form this way. Those on Hawaii’s Big Island formed in the middle of a tectonic plate, for instance.

Hiding along the ocean floor in the northwest Pacific, Tamu Massif covers a territory bigger than Massachusetts. Credit: W. Sager, Univ. of Houston

People were not alive when Tamu Massif developed and grew. But even if they were, no one would have seen it, the researchers now report. The reason: “It looks to us like Tamu Massif never got above sea level. And that,” says Sager, “was a surprise”

“We had thought it was plausible that Tamu Massif was an island at one time,” the scientist says. But that no longer seems likely. While drilling into this underwater mountain, the geologists ran into layers of sediment that were only a few hundred meters thick. That sediment resembled what forms in shallow water. Yet the mountain’s surface showed no erosion that would be typical of volcanoes that spend time above the ground or water’s surface.

So the new data suggest this lava king may have risen close to the sea surface, Sager says — maybe to within 200 meters or so, “but never all the way.”

Power Words

crust (in geology) The outer, rocky skin of a planet, such as Earth.

geophysicsThe field of study that describes how Earth and other planetlike objects form and the energetic processes by which their structure changes over time. Meteorology, oceanography and seismology describe aspects of the processes that govern those changes to Earth and its environment.

geologyThe study of Earth’s physical structure, history and processes.

lava Molten rock that comes up from the mantle, through Earth’s crust and out of a volcano.

magma The molten rock that resides under Earth’s crust. When it erupts from a volcano, this material is referred to as lava.

mantle(in geology) Earth’s middle layer, right below the crust.

massif(in geology) Part of a mountain or mountain range that is independent of the neighboring rock.

sedimentMaterial (such as stones and sand) deposited by water, wind or glaciers.

tectonic platesThe gigantic slabs — some spanning thousands of miles — that make up Earth’s outer layer.

volcanismThe processes by which volcanoes form and change over time. Scientists who study this are known as volcanologists.

volcanoA place on Earth’s crust that opens, allowing magma and gases to spew out from the mantle. The magma rises through a system of pipes or channels, sometimes spending time in chambers where it bubbles with gas and undergoes chemical transformations. This plumbing system can become more complex over time. This can result in a change, over time, to the chemical composition of the lava as well. The surface around a volcano’s opening can grow into a mound or cone shape as successive eruptions send more lava onto the surface, where it cools into hard rock.

A Modern Glimpse into Ancient Relaxation Practices.

Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation have been around for thousands of years. Countless generations have shown us that engaging in these practices can help us live healthier, more balanced lives. But, the question arises: How?
Learn more about The Chopra Center’s signature meditation & yoga retreat Seduction of SpiritHow do these activities – as simple as breathing or even thinking – affect our bodies in such profoundly positive ways? By what internal processes does this occur? As modern science marches steadily ahead, paving the way to understanding the physiologic underpinnings of the mind–body connection, we are beginning to see glimpses of the extraordinary and beautifully complex mechanisms behind the changes our bodies undergo when we meditate, practice yoga, or simply. . . breathe. As a physician and clinician, it is exciting for me to see these unfolding answers to age-old questions.In the last several years, research has emerged suggesting that when we relax, changes occur not only at the cellular level, but also at the most subtle level of our physiology – our genes. Our genetic code, which lies within our DNA, holds all the information necessary to build and maintain our bodies. Although this code is largely unchanged from conception throughout our adult lives, it appears that changes in gene regulation – or when our genes are turned “on” or “off” – are the greatest factor in how our inherited code shapes our health and wellbeing. What science is now showing us is that we can affect our own gene regulation through mind-body relaxation practices.A very recent study that suggests the relaxation response actually changes how our genes express themselves adds more support to what researchers see as a growing body of evidence that giving your mind and body a break can result in some real – and important – health benefits, such as improving energy metabolism and decreasing the aging effects of vascular inflammation.In a nutshell, researchers found that when study participants practiced a relaxation technique such as mindful breathing, meditation or prayer, or yoga, different genes were activated in their bodies than when they were in a neutral or stressful state. Specifically, genes that counteract the damaging effects of stress are activated, and the activity of genes that fuel the anxious “fight-or-flight” reaction are diminished. The relaxation response elicited positive genetic changes affecting mitochondria, the powerhouses that energize the cell. The activity of genes linked to insulin levels, which aid in energy metabolism, also increased. Also noted was a decrease in gene activity related to inflammation, which has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.The good news is that these positive genetic changes were seen in all the study participants who engaged in relaxation activities. The even better news is that far more pronounced changes were seen in the participants who were long-term practitioners of the relaxation response. The researchers note that this beneficial relaxation response can be attained through many different techniques – meditation, prayer, yoga, or mindfulness, among others – but the differences in techniques were not reflected in the patterns of the gene regulation changes.These findings hearten me as I continue encouraging my patients to engage in the healing practices of the Vedic tradition such as yoga and pranayama (breathing techniques). With this added insight, I know that they will not only feel better, they will be better.

In the end, as we get closer to unwinding the secrets of age-old wisdom, we gain a renewing appreciation for the strength of our healing traditions that integrate into our modern lives and help to keep us whole well into the future.

The Higgs, The Dilaton & The Big Bang.

Belgian transsexual helped to die

Belgian helped to die after three sex change operations.

Generic undated photograph of hospital syringes.
Cases of recorded deaths from euthanasia on psychological grounds have risen in Belgium.

A transsexual has been helped to die by doctors in Belgium, after a series of failed sex-change operations.

Nathan Verhelst, born a girl, asked for help to end his life on grounds of psychological suffering. He died in a Brussels hospital on Monday.

Two doctors concluded the 44-year-old did not have temporary depression. His case received scant media coverage.

Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002. There were 52 cases of euthanasia on psychological grounds last year.

‘Rigorous procedure’

“He died in all serenity,” doctor Wim Distlemans told the Belgian newspaper, Het Laatste Nieuws.

Nathan Verhelst was born Nancy into a family of three boys. The newspaper, which said it had spoken to him on the eve of his death, reported that he had been rejected by his parents who had wanted another son.

He had three operations to change sex between 2009 and 2012.

“The first time I saw myself in the mirror I felt an aversion for my new body,” he was quoted as saying.

The hospital said there was an “extremely rigorous procedure” in place before any patient was put to death. “When we have a case which is… complicated, we ask ourselves more questions in order to be certain about the diagnosis,” Dr Jean-Michel Thomas said.


The BBC’s Matthew Price in Brussels says the number of people opting for euthanasia in Belgium has risen steadily since legalisation. Most candidates are over 60 years old and have cancer.

Voluntary euthanasia for those over 18 is relatively uncontroversial in Belgium. Parliament is now considering expanding the law to under 18s as well.

Patients must be capable of deciding for themselves. They must be conscious and have to give a “voluntary, considered and repeated” request to die.

There were 1,432 recorded cases of euthanasia in Belgium in 2012; a 25% increase on the previous year’s figure. They represented 2% of all deaths, the AFP news agency reported.

Walking ‘cuts breast cancer risk’

Women walking on the beach

Post-menopausal women who walk for an hour a day can cut their chance of breast cancer significantly, a study has suggested.

The report, which followed 73,000 women for 17 years, found walking for at least seven hours a week lowered the risk of the disease.

The American Cancer Society team said this was the first time reduced risk was specifically linked to walking.

UK experts said it was more evidence that lifestyle influenced cancer risk.

A recent poll for the charity Ramblers found a quarter of adults walk for no more than an hour a week – but being active is known to reduce the risk of a number of cancers.

Recreational activity

This study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention followed 73,615 women out of 97,785 aged 50-74 who had been recruited by the American Cancer Society between 1992 and 1993 so it could monitor the incidence of cancer in the group.

“Start Quote

We know that the best weapon to overcoming breast cancer is the ability to stop it occurring in the first place.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan Breast Cancer Campaign

They were asked to complete questionnaires on their health and on how much time they were active and participating in activities such as walking, swimming and aerobics and how much time they spent sitting watching television or reading.

They completed the same questionnaires at two-year intervals between 1997 and 2009.

Of the women, 47% said walking was their only recreational activity.

Those who walked for at least seven hours per week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who walked three or fewer hours per week.

Dr Alpa Patel, a senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta Georgia, who led the study, said: “Given that more than 60% of women report some daily walking, promoting walking as a healthy leisure-time activity could be an effective strategy for increasing physical activity amongst post-menopausal women.

“We were pleased to find that without any other recreational activity, just walking one hour a day was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer in these women.

“More strenuous and longer activities lowered the risk even more.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “This study adds further evidence that our lifestyle choices can play a part in influencing the risk of breast cancer and even small changes incorporated into our normal day-to-day activity can make a difference.

She added: “We know that the best weapon to overcoming breast cancer is the ability to stop it occurring in the first place.

“The challenge now is how we turn these findings into action and identify other sustainable lifestyle changes that will help us prevent breast cancer.”

Face blindness: Seeing but not seeing

Woman's face
People with prosopagnosia see a face – but don’t recognise it.

Imagine that suddenly you cannot recognise your mother, your partner, your child. You can see them but your brain cannot process the information – you don’t know whether they are smiling, or understand their emotions.

That is what happened to David Bromley, after he suffered a brain injury that left him with face blindness.

David has prosopagnosia. People with this condition can see the eyes, the nose, and the mouth, what is known as the context – but they cannot see them as a whole. They do not recognise gestures or emotions.

“I can even recognise my wife if I walk into the house and know that she is there,” says David.

“But if I’m in the street and she passes by and I don’t know that she is going to be there, I wouldn’t recognise her.”

David, who lives in Essex, had unknowingly been living with eye damage since birth – the arteries and veins were mixed up. This eventually caused a partial loss of sight and damage in the brain which caused the prosopagnosia.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this condition is that people do not notice right away that something is wrong with them.

‘Social embarrassment’

He remembers when he realised there was a problem.

“I went to a reunion where I saw friends that I hadn’t seen for 30 years. We were pretty close but we went our separate ways.”

On the way home, he told his brother-in-law: “‘Fran and Mickey haven’t changed a bit, they are exactly the same!’. And then I said ‘hold on, were they wearing tank tops?'”

What David was seeing was his memory of their friends back then. “My brain was telling me that there they were and what they looked like, but that wasn’t the reality”.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

This woman swam up and said ‘buenos dias’ and I went ‘hello, please to meet you’, thinking it was his wife, but it was actually my wife and I hadn’t recognised her”

David Bromley

After that, he discovered he was face blind.

There are two main forms of prosopagnosia; developmental – where people fail to develop face processing abilities which is thought to affect around 2% of the population, and acquired, which develops after some form of brain injury and is much rarer.

Dr Ashok Jansari, a cognitive neuropsychology expert from the University of East London said: “Acquired prosopagnosia is extremely rare because the type of brain damage is very specific,.

“It can be caused by damage to the back of the brain on the right-hand side in an area known generally as the right occipito-temporal region.”

David said: “I don’t know what’s worse – not being able to ever recognise people or at 56 years old – as it happened to me – suddenly not being able to recognise anybody”.

He added that the worst part is the social embarrassment.

“We were on holiday in Cuba and I’d been snorkelling in the sea. I was talking with this guy from Denmark, when this woman swam up and said ‘buenos dias’ and I went ‘hello, pleased to meet you’, thinking it was his wife, but it was actually my wife and I hadn’t recognised her.”

David can see people perfectly well – but 10 or 15 minutes later he cannot recognise them.

He now tells clients: “If I ignore you, I’m not being rude, it is just that I can’t recognise you.”

Job fears

Sandra, from London, who only wants to give her first name, is also afraid of social embarrassment.

She had encephalitis – inflammation of the brain – 14 years ago, which left her with face blindness.

Even though her prosopagnosia is mild – she can recognise people she knew before her illness – she would rather not let people know because she does not want anyone to think she has some sort of incapacity.

“Life with prosopagnosia is very shameful,” she says.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

Once a part of the brain is damaged it is not going to ‘grow’ back, so it is impossible to fix the problem”

Dr Ashok Jansari University of East London

She is teacher and at work almost nobody knows that she is face blind.

“If I see someone every day, I can recognise them. But if one of the children says hi to me on the street, I would know it is a student from the school, but I wouldn’t know who.

“I don’t say anything to the children, I just work every day to learn their faces.”

But she says: “Perhaps the reason why I don’t mention it is because I don’t want them to think that I cannot do my job, because that’s not true. I don’t want to feel ashamed or that people think that there is something wrong with me.”

Dr Jansari understands the feelings and fears of David and Sandra.

He knows of cases in which people have lost their jobs because of the condition – including a teacher who had difficulty recognising pupils, causing problems when parents came to pick up their children at the end of the day,

Even though prosopagnosia is not recognised as a disability, Dr Jansari thinks it should be treated as such in some cases.

This condition has no cure. “In the case of acquired prosopagnosia, once a part of the brain is damaged it is not going to ‘grow’ back, so it is impossible to fix the problem,” he said.

“With developmental prosopagnosia, we don’t know what causes it, but hypothetically in the future if they find that there is a genetic cause, that could be corrected – but that would be a very long way off.”

Even though people develop strategies to cope – because people change their appearance, they are not foolproof.

Dr Jansari says: “Once David thought that a photograph he saw was of George Michael but it was of me, from a time when I used to have a goatee beard and a gold earring!”

Sounds of Silence, Capturing A Building’s Sonic Signature.

Diesel Throws Honeybees Off the Trail.