Motherless babies possible as scientists create live offspring without need for female egg


Sperm cells form in the same way, so that when a sperm and egg meet they form a full genetic quota, with half our DNA coming from our mother and half from our father.

But now scientists have shown embryoscould be created from cells which carry all their chromosomes which means that, in theory, any cell in the human body could be fertilised by a sperm.

Three generations of mice have already been created using the technique and are fit and healthy and now researchers are planning to test out the theory using skin cells.

Scientists now want to test whether the same result could be achieved using skin cells 
Scientists now want to test whether the same result could be achieved using skin cells 

Dr Tony Perry, a molecular embryologist and senior author of the study, said: “Some people say start the day with an egg, but what this paper says is that you don’t necessarily have to start development with one.

“It has been thought that only an egg cell was capable of reprogramming sperm to allow embryonic development to take place.

“Our work challenges that dogma, held since early embryologists first observed mammalian eggs in around 1827 and observed fertilisation 50 years later, that only an egg cell fertilised with a sperm cell can result in a live mammalian birth.

“We’re talking about different ways of making embryos. Imagine that you could take skin cells and make embryos from them. This would have all kinds of utility.”

For the initial experiments, scientists “tricked” an egg into developing into an embryo using special chemicals which makes the egg think it has been fertilised. Crucially the cells in an embryo copy themselves completely when they divide, and so mirror closely most other cells in the body, such as skin cells.

When scientists injected the embryos with sperm, they grew into healthy mice which went on to produce their own litters.

The fertilised non-egg cell developed into an embryo in the same way as a normal egg cell 
The fertilised non-egg cell developed into an embryo in the same way as a normal egg cell 

Although the researchers began with an egg cell for the experiment, they do not believe it is required to spark the same development. In theory, the technique should work with any cell in the body as long as half the chromosomes are removed first to allow them to fuse with the sperm’s chromosomes.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, group leader at The Francis Crick Institute, said: “I’m not surprised that the authors are excited about this. I think it is a very interesting paper, and a technical tour de force.

“And I am sure it will tell us something important about reprogramming at these early steps of development that are relevant to fertilisation – and perhaps more broadly about reprogramming of cell fate in other situations.

“It doesn’t yet tell us how, but the paper gives a number of clear pointers.”

It also raises the possibility that a man could even fertilise his own cells to produce offspring containing a mixture of genes inherited from him and his parents.

More realistically, the technique could allow women whose fertility has been wiped out by cancer drugs or radiotherapy to have their own children.

While eggs can be frozen before cancer therapy and later fertilised in an IVF clinic, currently nothing can be done once they have been lost.  It may also help women to continue having children later in life. Women are born with all their eggs and they degrade with age, which makes conception more difficult in later life. But if it was possible to fertilise a new skin cell, it could improve the chance of having a baby.

Conception using sperm and non-egg cells could also aid the preservation of endangered species, since it avoids the need to recover eggs.

In the study, 30 mouse pups were born with a success rate of 24 per cent. This compares with a 1 per cent to 2 per cent  success rate for offspring created by the Dolly the Sheep method of cloning by transferring DNA to donated eggs.

Some of the mice went on to have offspring themselves, and a number had offspring that went on to have their own pups. Fertility is generally seen as a sign of fitness and good health.

Dr Perry said that his team was planning to take the next step of attempting to produce live offspring from ordinary non-egg cells, such as skin cells.

Mouse pups were healthy and went on to produce their own offspring 
Mouse pups in the experiment were healthy and went on to produce their own offspring 

Dr Paul Colville-Nash, from the Medical Research Council, which funded the study, said: “This is an exciting piece of research which may help us to understand more about how human life begins and what controls the viability of embryos, mechanisms which may be important in fertility.

“It may one day even have implications for how we treat infertility, though that’s probably still a long way off.”

New Robot Can Operate on Eyes With More Accuracy Than a Human Surgeon


IN BRIEF
  • This two-armed, teleoperated robot can precisely move in a 10 mm space, giving it the ability to operate on eyes more accurately and with less potential for error than human surgeons.
  • Axsis is just one of a growing number of robot surgeons that are changing how doctors treat patients.

EASY ON THE EYES

Medical robots are increasingly being adopted in hospitals all around the world for a number of uses, including diagnostics, testing, and treatment. Due to their precision, they are proving particularly useful for surgery, and now another robot has been built to undertake a delicate operation: cataract surgery.

Cataract surgery is rather simple in concept, but incredibly delicate in reality. To do one, a surgeon must cut a small hole in the eye’s lens, remove the cloudy part that’s fogging up the patient’s vision, and replace it with a small piece of plastic similar to a permanent contact lens. The thin membranes of the eye are pretty sensitive, so the most likely complication from this surgery is that a surgeon pierces the back of the lens, causing hazy vision.

To counter this issue, Cambridge Consultants has created Axsis, a two-armed, teleoperated robot that can operate on eyes with more accuracy than a human surgeon. The robot has two pincers that can precisely move in a 10 millimeter (.4 inch) space, about the size of an eye lens. The surgeon controls the robot using two joysticks and an enlarged image on a screen. The size of the latter allows the surgeon to move the robot exactly where he wants it to go to perform the operation.

Axsis / Cambridge Consultants

ROBO SURGERY

Robots have been in the operating room for some time now and with increasing frequency. Popular surgical robot da Vinci was able to perform nearly half a million minimally intrusive operations in the US just last year, and other surgical robots have been used in operations to treat lung problems, appendix problems, and many others. In development are small microbots that operate inside the body to perform surgery, and still other robots are operating on eyes, just like Axsis.

While some aren’t sure what need Axsis has filled as lasers eliminate much of the risk involved with cataract surgery, the system could lead to other operations that require small, delicate movements. We’ll have to wait to see what Axsis gets its robot hands on in the future.

Elon Musk suggests that basic universal income is the solution to robots taking our jobs


In the back of everyone’s mind is the impending future of automation.  We see it in small scales, as kiosks replace cashiers, but it has been happening since the dawn of time.  We build machines or use other technologies to take the burden off of ourselves.  We have done this in farming and construction, all the way down to the computer (computers used to be people).

The agitation that comes along with automation, and possibly the most nerve wracking aspect of it, is the loss of jobs.  In an economy where people rely on a paycheck for goods or services rendered, taking away the opportunity to do the service means taking away the paycheck.

Fortunately, working for money is not an inherent part of nature.  It is a construct, created by people, that can be changed by people.  Elon Musk has touched on what many others have also pondered and some have enacted: Basic Income.

“People will have time to do other things and more complex things, more interesting things,” said Musk. “[They will] certainly have more leisure time.”

And maybe that is what we need; more free time to figure out the solutions to the problems we’re facing.  An overburdened and debted majority of people has gotten us into a quagmire of pissed off and tired humanity.  If we were to pass off the crap jobs to machines and let our creativity flourish, there are no bounds to which our intellect would blossom.

Musk believes that “there’s a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income,” gauging what other options there are.

Perhaps the basics, like food, shelter, transportation and communication, should be taken care of.  If we had the opportunity to focus on the things that were really important to us, rather than be bogged down by a job we hate, it could change everything.

It starts with your mindset.  If you think this is possible and you think it’s a good idea to try, expound on it.  The best place to start is spreading the beleif that it’s possible and we may very well be on the edge of a paradigm shift.

Hand-Foot-And-Mouth Disease On The Rise: Experts Beg Parents To Know The Signs


Every parents worries about the infectious childhood illness that sweep through classrooms and after-school programs this time of year.

Most kids get their inoculations early on to avoid old-fashioned diseases like mumps and rubella that used to effect huge swathes of children every year.

Even better, there’s now an annual flu shot for tackling one of the winter’s most contagious illnesses — even Ellen knows how important it is to get your flu shot!

Still, some diseases are proving harder to tackle than others. One of the most resistant is hand-foot-and-mouth disease, which still affects about 200,000 Americans in the USA every year.

This year, experts at the West Central Health District in Georgia warn that it could be a record-breaking year for the disease, which is already causing outbreaks among school kids and college students.

Scroll through below to learn more about the disease, and what you can do to head it off.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease — or HFMD for short — is an incredibly common ailment that affects hundred of thousands of people every single year.

Part of the reason it’s so very common? It’s highly contagious, and can spread easily from contact with saliva or mucus.

In other words, you can’t get it from simply being in the same room as someone with the infection, but you can get it from a sneeze, a kiss, or a handshake.

That’s part of the reason it runs rampant in kindergartens and preschools, where the kids tend to be grabby with one another, and are usually a little bit covered in spit and snot.

It also spread quickly on college campuses, where food and drinks are shared frequently, and students tend to be overtired and not at peak physical health.

Senior citizens or folks with weakened immune systems are also vulnerable, especially if they live communally, like in a nursing home.

Of course, even a perfectly healthy adult in the prime of life can get this disease; it all depends on what germs you’re exposed to.

Fortunately, the symptoms are unpleasant, but usually mild and not life-threatening.

They include flu-like symptoms, like fever and sore throat, but HFMD is most characterized by the itchy red spots that appear on — you guessed it — your hands, feet, and mouth.

Sores may sometimes also appear on the legs and genitals.

The virus looks alarming, especially if you’re sporting spots, but fortunately it usually clears up on its own within a week or two.

Still, if you suspect you or another member of your family has the disease, go to the doctor straight away.

Because it’s so contagious, this illness usually requires you to stay home until the virus is fully out of your system, to keep it from spreading to other folks in your community.

Though the symptoms of the virus are usually mild, there can be serious side effects, especially in people with weakened immune systems from another illness or from age.

In some rare cases, HFMD can lead to serious brain infections like meningitis and encephalitis.

More commonly, kids who don’t shake the symptoms for a few weeks may lose some of their fingernails or toenails.

According to the CDC, outbreaks of HFMD are not common in the USA, but that might be changing this year.

A large outbreak has been sweeping through Georgia, and may affect the wider South Eastern US, and could even spread to other regions of the country.

If you happen to live in an area affected by this year’s HFMD outbreak, it’s important to be extremely vigilant about hygiene practices.

 make sure everyone is washing their hands after leaving the bathroom, and before touching any food.

If you suspect HFMD, make sure to keep your kiddos home from school until they have been cleared by a doctor.

If you or someone you know does contract the illness, the best treatment is rest and plenty of fluids, even if the sores make swallowing a little painful.

A feathered dinosaur tail has been found preserved in amber.


A dinosaur tail with beautifully preserved feathers still attached to the bone has been found preserved in amber, and it’s one of the coolest things we’ve ever seen.

It’s not the first time feathers have been found trapped in amber, but it is the first time that researchers have been able to definitively link them to a dinosaur. The discovery will provide invaluable insight into how dinosaurs’ feathers looked and evolved – something we’ve never been able to learn from fossils.

“It’s a once in a lifetime find,” one of the researchers, Ryan McKellar from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, told CNN. “The finest details are visible and in three dimensions.”

Amazingly, the piece of amber was found at a market in Myanmar last year, where it was being sold as a chunk of amber containing plant material.

Lead researcher Lida Xing, from the China University of Geoscience in Beijing, immediately recognised that there were feathers inside, and teamed up with McKellar to learn more about the unique specimen.

ci

Using detailed microscopy and a CT scanner to observe the structure of the feathers and the bones they were attached to, the team predicts that the tail belonged to a young coelurosaur, a family of bird-like carnivorous dinosaurs that lived around 99 million years ago during the Cretaceous era.

As far as researchers are aware, these are the first non-avian dinosaur feathers found preserved in amber.

“The new material preserves a tail consisting of eight vertebrae from a juvenile; these are surrounded by feathers that are preserved in 3D and with microscopic detail,” said McKellar in a press release.

“We can be sure of the source because the vertebrae are not fused into a rod or pygostyle as in modern birds and their closest relatives. Instead, the tail is long and flexible, with keels of feathers running down each side.”

In other words, the feathers definitely belong to a dinosaur, not a prehistoric bird.

The team has now nicknamed the young coelurosaur ‘Eva’, and at the time of her unfortunate death she would have been around the size of a sparrow – but fully grown would have been a little smaller than an ostrich.

The family she belongs to is closely related to iconic meat-eaters such as T. rex and Velociraptor – but as the new discovery shows, Eva was most likely more cute and fluffy.

Analysis of the feathers suggest that the tail had a chestnut-brown upper surface and a pale or white underside.

encealCurrent Biology

Interestingly, the feathers are missing a well-developed central shaft, also known as a ‘rachis‘. This could help answer one of the long-standing questions in feather evolution – did feathers start out stiff and spiky with a central shaft, or were they originally fluffy and floppy?

It’s an important question, seeing as researchers think that, without that central shaft, flight wouldn’t have been possible.

The new discovery leans on the side of the fluffy parts of the feather coming first, but we’ll need to find a lot more preserved feathers from the era and examine them before we can say for sure.

The team also studied the chemistry of the specimen where it was exposed at the surface of the amber, and showed that the soft tissue layer around the bones had traces of ferrous iron – the remains of haemoglobin from Eva’s blood that was also trapped in the sample.

The hope now is that the team will find more of these remains trapped in amber – and maybe even one day a partial or complete dinosaur – to help compliment all the incredible things we’ve learnt about dinosaurs from the fossil record.

“It’s a spectacular little glimpse,” McKellar told NPR. “It gives us, basically, a pathway that gets us to modern feathers.”

This strange material could reveal the link between classical and quantum physics.


Classical and quantum physics are defined by what makes them so different, but an even bigger question has plagued physicists for decades: what links these two opposing views together? Why do the fundamental laws of classical physics fail at the quantum level, and can they be reconciled?

Now, thanks to a newly developed material, scientists might be closing in on the answer, because they’ve devised a way to see quantum mechanics occur on a scale visible to the naked eye.

“We found a particular material that is straddling these two regimes,” says team leader N. Peter Armitage, from Johns Hopkins University.

“Usually we think of quantum mechanics as a theory of small things, but in this system quantum mechanics is appearing on macroscopic length scales. The experiments are made possible by unique instrumentation developed in my laboratory.”

The material in question is a type of topological insulator. This type of material was first predicted back in the 1980s, and scientists have been producing different variations of it since 2007.

Topological insulators are special because they’re conductive on their outer layer but, internally, it’s an insulator. This means that electrons can only flow along the outside of the material, causing them to display some really weird behaviours.

For their experiment, Armitage and his team created topological insulators made from pieces of bismuth and selenium that were about the size of finger nail clippings of various thicknesses.

They revealed for the first time that these two elements offer a way for physicts to see the quantum phenomena on a much larger scale than usual.

To figure this out, they sent a beam of terahertz radiation (sometimes called THz or T-rays – an invisible spectrum of light) through these insulators, measuring the beam as it travelled.

The team found that the beam changed as it passed through the material by rotating slightly – an effect that’s usually only observed at the atomic scale.

Even better, the amount of change they saw could be accurately predicted using the same complex mathematics that govern at the quantum level. This is the first time researchers have witnessed quantum mechanics occurring on the macro scale in a topological insulator.

That might not sound like a big deal, but the insulator has given the team a rare opportunity to reproduce a quantum effect in a larger object, and it shows a promising link between the world of quantum and classical mechanics.

This link is something scientists have been chasing for decades, as part of the hunt for the elusive ‘theory of everything‘.

To put it simply, scientists know that the rules of the quantum world – which explain how atoms operate on an extremely small scale – have to somehow be linked to the everyday classical world – the rules of bigger systems, like how a ball rolls or a rocket is launched.

But the problem is, this link is elusive. Many of the rules of classical physics break down at the quantum level. For example, gravity, which is crucial to our world, doesn’t seem to affect quantum systems at all, and the rules of classical physics can’t explain the ‘spooky action at a distance‘ of quantum entanglement.

This experiment suggests that topological insulators could be the way we finally see that link once and for all, if we can continue to manipulate them further.

Though the new experiment is definitely a step in the right direction and “a piece of the puzzle”, according to Armitage, there’s still a lot of work for researchers to do before the link between the two different physical worlds is fully understood.

The hope is that one day we’ll have a completed picture of physics, and new materials like the team’s topological insulator might be the way we get there.

Strange messages coming from the stars are ‘probably’ from aliens, scientists say


‘It is too early to unequivocally attribute these purported signals to the activities of extraterrestrial civilizations,’ a group of scientists looking for aliens have warned – but the signals are encouraging.

Scientists have heard hugely unusual messages from deep in space that they think are coming from aliens.

A new analysis of strange modulations in a tiny set of stars appears to indicate that it could be coming from extraterrestrial intelligence that is looking to alert us to their existence.

The new study reports the finding of specific modulations in just 234 out of the 2.5 million stars that have been observed during a survey of the sky. The work found that a tiny fraction of them seemed to be behaving strangely.

And there appears to be no obvious explanation for what is going on, leaving the scientists behind the paper to conclude that the messages are coming from aliens.

“We find that the detected signals have exactly the shape of an [extraterrestrial intelligence] signal predicted in the previous publication and are therefore in agreement with this hypothesis,” write EF Borra and E Trottier in a new paper. “The fact that they are only found in a very small fraction of stars within a narrow spectral range centered near the spectral type of the sun is also in agreement with the ETI hypothesis,” the two scientists from Laval University in Quebec write.

The research has appeaed in the journal Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, under the title ‘Discovery of peculiar periodic spectral modulations in a small fraction of solar type stars’. It appears to have been originally suggested for publication with the name ‘Signals probably from Extraterrestrial Intelligence’, according to a pre-print version of the paper hosted online.

But they make clear that further work will need to be done to confirm or deny that hypothesis. That will need to be done by watching for the same signals on different equipment so that all other explanations can be discarded.

Breakthrough Listen – an initiative set up this year to look for alien life and supported by people including Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg – said that the message was promising. But they said that further work will have to be done before they can be “unequivocally attributed” to aliens.

“The one in 10,000 objects with unusual spectra seen by Borra and Trottier are certainly worthy of additional study,” the team said in a statement. “However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

“It is too early to unequivocally attribute these purported signals to the activities of extraterrestrial civilizations. Internationally agreed-upon protocols for searches for evidence of advanced life beyond Earth (SETI) require candidates to be confirmed by independent groups using their own telescopes, and for all natural explanations to be exhausted before invoking extraterrestrial agents as an explanation.

“Careful work must be undertaken to determine false positive rates, to rule out natural and instrumental explanations, and most importantly, to confirm detections using two or more independent telescopes.”

Watch the video. URL:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/aliens-proof-evidence-facts-stars-scientists-extraterrestrial-life-et-intelligence-a7377716.html?cmpid=facebook-post

One of the rarest crystals on Earth has been found in a Russian meteorite.


Physicists have uncovered an ultra-rare quasicrystal in a piece of Russian meteorite, and it’s only the third time ever that we’ve seen one of these strange materials in nature.

Originating in outer space, these crystals aren’t just incredible because of how rare they are – their atomic structure is so peculiar, for decades their existence was dismissed as “impossible”, and they cost the scientist who first discovered them his job.

This new quasicrystal specimen was found by a team led by geologist Luca Bindi from the University of Florence in Italy.

They’d been examining a tiny grain of meteorite that landed in the Khatyrka region of the Russian far east five years ago, and identified piece of quasicrystal inside, just a few micrometres wide.

This is the third quasicrystal found in grains of this particular meteorite so far, which suggests that there might be more out there, and with even stranger structures.

“What is encouraging is that we have already found three different types of quasicrystals in the same meteorite, and this new one has a chemical composition that has never been seen for a quasicrystal,” one of the team, Paul Steinhardt from Princeton University, told Becky Ferreira at Motherboard.

“That suggests there is more to be found, perhaps more quasicrystals that we did not know were possible before.”

If you’re wondering what the hell a quasicrystal is, they consist of an entirely unique atomic structure that basically combines the symmetrical properties of a crystal and the chaos of an amorphous solid.

Regular crystals, such as snowflakes, diamonds, and table salt, are made up of atoms that are arranged in near-perfect symmetry.

Polycrystals, including most metals, rocks, and ice, have more randomised and disordered structures, just like amorphous solids, such as glass, wax, and many plastics.

Back in 1982, Israeli chemist Daniel Shechtman proposed that another type of atomic structure could exist in nature – a strange, semi-ordered form of matter, with an atomic structure that displays no repeating patterns anywhere you look.

When he found some in a sample of synthetic material he created in the lab, he reportedly told himself, “Eyn chaya kao,” which translates to “There can be no such creature,” in Hebrew.

Shechtman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery, but not before being literally laughed out of his lab and ridiculed by his peers for decades for daring to suggest something so preposterous as a semi-ordered structure.

The reason quasicrystals are so unlikely is because for almost two centuries, perfect symmetry in atomic structures was believed to follow a very strict set of rules.

Before the existence of quasicrystals was confirmed, scientists assumed that for a structure to grow with a repeating, symmetrical structure, it could exhibit one of four types of rotational symmetry: two-fold, three-fold, four-fold, or six-fold.

Quasicrystals broke this rule, because they have crystal-like structure with a five-fold rotational symmetry.

As Pat Theil, a senior scientist at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, explained to PBS, if you want to cover your bathroom floor in perfectly tessellating tiles, they can only be rectangles, triangles, squares or hexagons. Any other simple shape won’t work, because it will leave a gap.

Quasicrystals are like pentagonal tiles – they can’t tessellate like squares or triangles can, but other atomic shapes move in to fill in the gaps, like so:

quasi-structure J.W. Evans, Ames Laboratory, US Department of Energy

You can also see an example of this in the image at the top of the page.

And here’s an actual image of the newly discovered quasicrystal with five-fold symmetry:

quasi-dec

While quasicrystals appear to be incredibly rare in nature – or on Earth, at least – they’re actually really simple to make in the lab, and synthetic quasicrystals are now being built into everything from frying pans to LED lights.

When the researchers examined the composition of the new quasicrystal, they confirmed that it was made from a combination of aluminium, copper, and iron atoms, all arranged like the pentagon-based pattern on a soccer ball.

This is the first time this particular composition has ever been found in nature, suggesting that we’re still only on the very cusp of understanding this bizarre form of matter.