Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bathed in the Glow of Bacterial Light

Scientists are becoming more clever at manipulating microbes to perform basic tasks. In this story, bacteria were taught to glow in synchrony, with the aim of creating microbial sensors to detect toxic gases. Similar technologies will soon be used to tweak microbes into producing valuable chemicals and fuels, and much more.

UCSD scientists have trained E. Coli bacteria to glow in synchrony, like a light chorus. The synchrony arises when colonies of bacteria on microfluidic chips communicate via gas channels. More:
Their achievement, detailed in this week’s advance online issue of the journal Nature, involved attaching a fluorescent protein to the biological clocks of the bacteria, synchronizing the clocks of the thousands of bacteria within a colony, then synchronizing thousands of the blinking bacterial colonies to glow on and off in unison.

...Using the same method to create the flashing signs, the researchers engineered a simple bacterial sensor capable of detecting low levels of arsenic. In this biological sensor, decreases in the frequency of the oscillations of the cells’ blinking pattern indicate the presence and amount of the arsenic poison.

Because bacteria are sensitive to many kinds of environmental pollutants and organisms, the scientists believe this approach could be also used to design low cost bacterial biosensors capable of detecting an array of heavy metal pollutants and disease-causing organisms. And because the senor is composed of living organisms, it can respond to changes in the presence or amount of the toxins over time unlike many chemical sensors.

...Hasty said he believes that within five years, a small hand-held sensor could be developed that would take readings of the oscillations from the bacteria on disposable microfluidic chips to determine the presence and concentrations of various toxic substances and disease-causing organisms in the field. _UCSD
"This development illustrates how basic, quantitative knowledge of cellular circuitry can be applied to the new discipline of synthetic biology," said James Anderson at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, in a university statement.

The new chips can be used for the production of biochemicals, tissue engineering, and biosensors that continually monitor the environment, rather than offer a one-off test that must be replaced every time new readings are needed. Besides the obvious practical uses, the sensors offer good aesthetics: The new "biopixels" come in beautiful shades of blue. _FastCoexist
Imagine if all the microbes in the world were to glow in the dark. Should that happen, humans might begin to comprehend the real inhabitants of Earth, in terms of number and mass. At that point, these slightly advanced apes might begin to understand the promise of bio-technologies.

First published at Al Fin Energy


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lighter than Air Craft for Orbital and Sub-Orbital Duty

The above vision for lighter than air-to-orbit, from JP Aerospace, has been circulating for 7 or 8 years now.

So far, the closest that JPAerospace has come to slipping the surly bonds of Earth, was with its Tandem balloon aircraft, which reached an altitude of 18 miles recently. Not so bad for a $30,000 project.

This is the JPAerospace Tandem launch, seen from multiple camera angles. The view from space is tacked on to the end of the video.

To become a reality, JPAerospace's "city in space" and lighter than air orbital launch, will need some big money backing. The US defense establishment is developing lighter than air observation platforms to be based at the edge of space, but there is no indication that the Pentagon wants to achieve orbit using lighter-than-air craft.

Spanish company Zero2Infinity is developing a lighter-than-air sub-orbital tourism concept, called inbloon. The goal is to take tourists to the edge of space inside a pressurised capsule, and allow them to stay there for almost 2 hours, appreciating the splendour of the planet below.
Zero2Infinity, based in Barcelona, Spain, hopes to start taking people up to near-space as early as 2013. Balloons cannot go as high as rockets, but in theory at least they should be far safer, since passengers won't be sitting on tonnes of explosives. Their environmental impact is also far lower than that of smoke-belching rockets.

López-Urdiales was inspired by his father, an atmospheric physicist who was involved in sending probes to Titan and Mars. "I've always seen him working, seen all the excitement of years of work going into a flight. That's what got me excited about space in general," he says. Then, in 2000, his father told him about how the Huygens probe that explored Titan was tested by dropping a prototype from a balloon around 40 kilometres up. "After our conversation, I thought if there's going to be space tourism, then let's try this way," he says.

There is no doubt that it is possible, because it has been done many times before. In the 1950s and 1960s, more than a dozen crewed balloons journeyed to near-space. In 1957, for instance, Joe Kittinger of the US air force ascended to a height of 29 kilometres in a capsule attached to a helium balloon. He enjoyed the ride so much that when ordered to descend, he replied: "Come and get me."

Zero2Infinity hopes to spread that joy to the civilian population. The company has carried out several test flights of uncrewed balloons, and earlier this year got the funding needed to carry out its first flight carrying people.

The plan is to use a massive helium "bloon", as the company likes to call it, to carry a pressurised capsule with space for two pilots and two passengers up to 34 kilometres above the Earth. You can book now - but at €110,000 per ticket, you'll need a little spare cash. _NewScientist

The video below juxtaposes the plans of Richard Branson's suborbital space tourism flights via rocket, beside the "inbloon" lighter than air suborbital tourism concept.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bali Corals Shocked Back to Life After Cyanide Poisoning

"I was devastated. Basically, all the corals were dead. It was gravel and sand," Rani recalled.

But when German architect and marine scientist Wolf Hilbertz told her about a discovery he had made in the 1970s, the diver's ears pricked up. _Discovery


The story talks about how corals were killed by cyanide poisoning and dynamite fishing. It also claims that warming oceans were just as bad as cyanide and dynamite! Anything for a holy cause, even deceitful reporting?
Hilbertz had sought to "grow" construction materials in the sea, and had done so by submerging a metallic structure and connecting it to an electric current with a weak and thus harmless voltage.

...When he tested out his invention in Louisiana in the United States, Hilbertz saw that after a few months oysters progressively covered the whole structure, and colonized the collected limestone.

More experiments were carried out and the same phenomenon was confirmed for corals.

"Corals grow 2-6 times faster. We are able to grow back reefs in a few years," Thomas J. Goreau, a Jamaican marine biologist and biogeochemist, told AFP.

Goreau began working with Hilbertz in the mid-1980s to develop Biorock technology, and he has continued their work since Hilbertz's death four years ago.

When Rani saw the discovery, it gave her an idea for how she might save "her" bay.

She decided to expand the project to 22 structures using her own money with the help of Taman Sari, the holiday resort in front of the coral restoration project.

...Today there are around sixty of these "cages" in Pemuteran bay, across a surface of two hectares, and the reef has not only been saved from near-death, it is flourishing better than ever before.

"Now we've got a better coral garden than we used to have," said Rani.

Biorock not only revives the corals but it makes them more resistant... _Discovery
Of course, cyanide and dynamite -- not to mention storms and tourists -- are quite hard on a reef. It is wonderful to find a mild remedy for a harsh problem.

But for reporters to claim that the fluctuating ocean temperatures are killing reefs -- reefs which evolved to survive in a wide range of temperatures and dissolved CO2 levels -- is pure dishonesty and political activism.

It is time for science reporters to come clean, and to report science news honestly and in a balanced fashion. The current crop of science journalists too often come across as just plain incompetent.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Two of the Last Rough Men: Videos of Proenneke and Korth

Dick Proenneke (via Evenfall Woodworks)

Dick Proenneke learned many practical skills during his childhood in Idaho, his time in the Navy, his schooling as a diesel mechanic, his work on a sheep ranch in Oregon, and his life as a skilled mechanic and salmon fisherman in Kodiak and King Salmon, Alaska. He put those practical skills to good use in the 30 years he lived alone in the Twin Lakes, Alaska, wilderness.

Dick Proenneke Alone in the Wilderness

Dick Proenneke Alone in the Wilderness Part II

Dick Proenneke The Frozen North

This video documents a week in the life of Heimo and Edna Korth. Heimo Korth is "The Final Frontiersman." He and his wife Edna are the last legal full time residents of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They move between three cabins every year, so as not to deplete the game as they trap and hunt for a living. (more here)

It is interesting to draw parallels between the lives of Richard Proenneke and Heimo Korth. Both moved far away from civilisation, deep into the Alaskan Wilderness. Both men thrived in the wild, despite the many hardships and challenges.

While Proenneke chose the solitary life, and Korth chose to raise a family in the far North, both men chose to challenge themselves to the utmost.

Previously published at Al Fin, the Next Level


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Live Out the Zombie Apocalypse in Remote Survival Pod

Image Source

This unique mountain survival retreat is made by the Leap Factory, and was placed in the French Alps by helicopter. It is almost impossible for zombies to access this retreat, and any who survive to reach your altitude can be easily dispatched by a dull axe or rusty sword.
Image Source

LEAPfactory’s Gervasutti refuge represents the pinnacle of the Italian firm’s achievement. LEAP refers to Living, Ecological, Alpine Pods, their speciality, and their latest pod is also one of their greatest. It has 6 contact points with the ground and weighs 5,500 pounds, while the elongated shape creates nearly 100 square feet of hi-comfort interior space that sleeps up to 12 people.

Everything – from the exterior shell to the interior fittings – is modular so that when the time comes, the refuge can be relocated elsewhere. The solar panels installed on the roof produce 2.5 Kwh of solar energy – making it completely self-sufficient – and it only took two days to install. This truly is a remarkable achievement in modular design… now we just have to get there! _Inhabitat
But the whole reason for this remote survival retreat is that it is difficult to reach -- for normal humans as well as zombies.

You see, if you find yourself among a group of humans that is confronted by a hungry polar bear, you do not have to be faster than the bear -- you merely need to be faster than at least one of the humans.

The same principle applies to zombies. Choose your perch wisely.

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

Stage Your Own Rapid Beach Invasion With the Iguana 29

...the Iguana 29 is suited more for the water. It’s a 29-foot speed boat with a 35-knot top speed over water and seating capacity for up to ten. But closer to land it can deploy retractable caterpillar tracks that can carry it across dry ground at up to five miles per hour. _PopSci


Now there is no need to call in the marines when planning a limited beach invasion. The Iguana 29 is an amphibious vehicle that seats up to 10 weekend commandos for quick and easy in and out raids on your favourite beach locations. Retractable tracks are always at the ready for all terrain landings -- just like the marines.
It’s cool because, at least by all appearances (and you can see it make the water/land transition in the video below) its tank-style treads are actually decent at negotiating off-road terrain. In the kinds of environments where an amphibious vehicle actually makes sense--a beach during low tide, a sandbar in shallow water, etc.--the Iguana looks right at home. It lacks the complexity of something like a hovercraft (remember that brief period where we all thought we were going to own hovercraft?) and the bulky slowness of one of those duck boats you see driving around Boston or Key West or wherever tourists go on those amphibious tours.
In other words, it’s less an “amphibious vehicle” and more a decent watercraft that can effectively handle dry land conditions when necessary--ostensibly a pretty good thing to have around if you’re living in an area with wildly varying tidal conditions or doing a lot of island hopping or cross-bay traversing. And all you need is $290,000 to get on board. _PopSci


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