April 19, 2014

Embryo clones produced from cells of human adults

Scientists for the first time have cloned cells from two adults to create early-stage embryos, and then derived tissue from those embryos that perfectly matched the DNA of the donors.

The experiment represents another advance in the quest to make tissue in the laboratory that could treat a range of maladies, from heart attacks to Alzheimer's. The study, involving a 35-year-old man and one age 75, was published Thursday in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Cell Stem Cell - Human Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Using Adult Cells

•Adult cell reprogramming via SCNT is not successful via the conventional protocol
•Improved success was achieved with a recently developed approach
•hESCs were derived via SCNT from 35- and 75-year-old males


Derivation of patient-specific human pluripotent stem cells via somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) has the potential for applications in a range of therapeutic contexts. However, successful SCNT with human cells has proved challenging to achieve, and thus far has only been reported with fetal or infant somatic cells. In this study, we describe the application of a recently developed methodology for the generation of human ESCs via SCNT using dermal fibroblasts from 35- and 75-year-old males. Our study therefore demonstrates the applicability of SCNT for adult human cells and supports further investigation of SCNT as a strategy for regenerative medicine.

Finding life in the outer solar system by pitlamping

Physicist Freeman Dyson suggests that we start looking for life on the moons of Jupiter and out past Neptune, in the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud. He talks about what such life would be like -- and how we might find it.

On the topic of Europa, Freeman believes we could find life there except for the expenses. It would be to hard to burrow through the ice and find out if there are things swimming around down there. He believes that if there is life down there that it would eventually move to the surface. The surface is a vacuum. There is no atmosphere, but being aquatic on that moon this would not be a problem for them. Freeman noted that this is not all likely, but possible and his philosophy is “look for whats detectable not for whats probable.”

Freeman also mentions a way of finding life in these systems. There is a term called pit-lamping that refers to using a spotlight at night to kill an animal. The light is reflected by the lenses in the animals eyes and they shoot it. Mr. Dyson believes this technique of hunting can be used to hunt for life in space. He believes that if life lives further away from the sun the reflectors in its eyes must be more powerful making it even easier to see than on earth.

Now in the Kuiper belt he believes there will be widespread life. The plants will be broken up and grown together in huge fields in space. Since the gravity is low they will be extremely wide spread. He says that even if we don’t find these things and they don’t exist at all, we can put them there and basically create our own masterpiece on the canvas of the universe.

If we don't find them is to make them ourselves. Design life to live on Europa and in the outer solar system.

April 18, 2014

Hubble Telescope can use spatial scanning to measure 5 billionth of a degree for accurate distance measurement to 10000 light years

By applying a technique called spatial scanning to an age-old method for gauging distances called astronomical parallax, scientists now can use NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to make precision distance measurements 10 times farther into our galaxy than previously possible.

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers now can precisely measure the distance of stars up to 10,000 light-years away -- 10 times farther than previously possible.

Astronomers have developed yet another novel way to use the 24-year-old space telescope by employing a technique called spatial scanning, which dramatically improves Hubble's accuracy for making angular measurements. The technique, when applied to the age-old method for gauging distances called astronomical parallax, extends Hubble's tape measure 10 times farther into space.

"This new capability is expected to yield new insight into the nature of dark energy, a mysterious component of space that is pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate," said Noble laureate Adam Riess of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md.

Spacex water landing looks good. First stage stabilized and rocket transmitted for 8 seconds after reaching the water

Elon Musk tweeted more good news about the water landing of the first stage.

Data upload from tracking plane shows landing in Atlantic was good! Several boats enroute through heavy seas.

Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal.

tThe first stage executed a good re-entry burn and was able to stabilize itself on the way down.

Recovering and reusing rockets are key parts of Musk's strategy for reducing the cost of spaceflight and eventually sending colonists to Mars.

Elon Musk indicates that if the reusable tests work for the first stage it will be the biggest thing Spacex has done.

Project Orion would gather Two thirds of propellant as it went so that All major moons of Saturn or Jupiter could be visited with a mass ratio less than 2.

Centauri Dreams has a look back at the Orion Project plans to fly to Enceladus. Project Orion was the rocket that was use about 800 small nuclear bombs for propulsion. It would drop each one through a hold in a massive metal donut/pusher plate.

Project Orion was intended to loft 1600 tons to low-Earth orbit, or in its advanced version, 1300 tons to a landing on one of Saturn’s moons. The moon that most drew Freeman Dyson’s eye in 1958 was tiny Enceladus.

Each Bomb was only one third of the weight of each propulsion unit

Part of the Orion strategy is to gather propellant for the return trip at the destination, thereby reducing the average takeoff weight of the bombs. “We assume that we can use as propellant either ice, ammonia, or hydrocarbons,” wrote Freeman, explaining why Enceladus was such a good place to stop. “We suppose that each propulsion unit contains one-third of its mass in the form of the bomb and other fabricated parts, and two-thirds of its mass in the form of propellant. This means that, when propellant refueling is possible, only one-third of the mass required for the homeward trip need be carried out from Earth.” When you put these numbers together, the end results were astonishing. “With the use of atmospheric drag a round-trip to satellites of either Jupiter or Saturn could be made with a total velocity increment of the order of 40 km/sec. With refueling and braking, all the satellites become accessible with a round-trip mass-ratio less than 2.”

All major moons of Saturn or Jupiter could be visited with a mass ratio less than 2.

Academics confirm that data shows majority does not rule in the US it is the rich and special interests

The US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country's citizens, but is instead ruled by those of the rich and powerful.

Each of four theoretical traditions in the study of American politics – which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism – offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented.

A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

In 1,779 policy cases (from 1981-2002), narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time.

The advantage of business-oriented groups in shaping policy outcomes reflects their numerical advantage within the
interest group universe in Washington, and also the infrequency with which business groups are found simultaneously on both sides of a proposed policy change.

Both these factors (numerical dominance and relative cohesion) play a part in the much stronger correlation of the overall interest group alignment index with business groups than with mass-oriented groups (.96 vs. .47)

Evidence shows economic elites and special interests get what they want

Spacex launch went well and awaiting word on first stage water landing but there is new video of reusable Falcon 9 with landing legs

The Spacex launch of a resupply mission to the International space station is perfect so far.

The first stage has retractable landing legs. We are awaiting word on how well the water landing went for the first stage.

Elon tweeted : Last known state for rocket boost stage is 360 m/s, Mach 1.1, 8.5 km altitude and roll rate close to zero (v important!)

There is also a new video of the Falcon 9 reusable with landing legs taking off and landing.

The video is of Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) taking its first test flight at our rocket development facility. F9R lifts off from a launch mount to a height of approximately 250m, hovers and then returns for landing just next to the launch stand. Early flights of F9R will take off with legs fixed in the down position. However, we will soon be transitioning to liftoff with legs stowed against the side of the rocket and then extending them just before landing.

The F9R testing program is the next step towards reusability following completion of the Grasshopper program last year (Grasshopper can be seen in the background of this video). Future testing, including that in New Mexico, will be conducted using the first stage of a F9R as shown here, which is essentially a Falcon 9 v1.1 first stage with legs. F9R test flights in New Mexico will allow us to test at higher altitudes than we are permitted for at our test site in Texas, to do more with unpowered guidance and to prove out landing cases that are more-flight like.

Nasal spray could protect against any strain of flu and the method could work against other pathogens

[University of St Andrews] Scots scientists have developed a novel treatment that could protect against any strain of the flu.

It is hoped that the new development, led by researchers at the University of St Andrews, has the potential to guard against current, future and even pandemic strains of the virus.

In an international effort, the scientists involved say that the preventative treatment could be used as a ‘frontline defence’ before an effective flu vaccine is developed. Leading influenza experts say the new development is ‘very exciting and potentially of great importance in this era’.

PNAS - Prevention of influenza by targeting host receptors using engineered proteins

Researchers have developed a new class of host-targeted biologics to prevent influenza by engineering multivalent carbohydrate-binding modules that bind with high affinity to sialic acid, the critical component of the influenza virus cell surface receptor. Mouse studies reveal a remarkable efficacy: a single 1-μg dose of the lead biologic given 7 d before a lethal challenge with 2009 pandemic H1N1 influenza virus provides complete protection. This new approach has the potential to be a front-line defense against any current and future influenza virus, overcoming viral escape to vaccines and antivirals. In addition, the biologics may have broader application against other respiratory pathogens.

Strands of engineered proteins bind to a mouse’s cells to ward off flu viruses. University of St. Andrews

In 2050-2100 the two countries with the most nuclear weapons could be a predominantly spanish speaking country and a country with a predominantly muslim population

Here is the 463 page comprehensive list of population projection tables from the UN 2012 population projection.

Russia's Muslim population has a slightly higher birth rate and there are more Muslim's entering Russia via immigration. There has been a backlash against the immigration of Muslims into Russia.

There is an estimated 17.5 million Muslims in Russia.

The UN Medium population project for Russia assumes that the fertility recovers from the 1.3 to 1.4 level of today back to about 1.89. This ends up with about 101 million Russians in about 2090 [if life expectancy increases about on pace with what is expected for the rest of the world. So even in the medium variant scenario, if the Muslim population in Russia increased to 53 million then it would be a majority by about 2070. A fertility rate of about 2.3 would do it, even if all immigration of muslims was stopped.

The low variant, fertility is projected to remain 0.5 children below the fertility in the medium variant over most of the projection period. By 2020-2025, fertility in the low variant is therefore half a child lower than that of the medium variant. That is, countries reaching a total fertility of 2.1 children per woman in the medium variant have a total fertility of 1.6 children per woman in the low variant.

In Russia's case it means that fertility stays around current low levels.

In the low population variant if the Muslims increase to about 30 million in Russia then they will become the majority of the population by about 2090.

Thermoelectric materials near critical measure of 3 where it makes sense to replace engines with solidstate conversion of heat to electricity on a mass scale

Thermoelectrics are slabs of semiconductor with a strange and useful property: heating them on one side generates an electric voltage that can be used to drive a current and power devices. To obtain that voltage, thermoelectrics must be good electrical conductors but poor conductors of heat, which saps the effect. Unfortunately, because a material's electrical and heat conductivity tend to go hand in hand, it has proven difficult to create materials that have high thermoelectric efficiency—a property scientists represent with the symbol ZT.

(H/T Talk Polywell)

Researchers at Northwestern and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, decided to take another look at tin selenide. The researchers synthesized a bullet-sized sample of SnSe and cleaved pieces of it along three different orientations of the crystal’s atomic planes, known as the a-, b-, and c-axes—a standard technique for analyzing the properties of materials. They then charted the thermal and electrical conductivity of each sample across a wide temperature range. The b-axis sample turned out to have a better-than-expected electrical conductivity and a very low thermal conductivity to boot. Those properties gave the material a ZT of 2.6, the best value ever measured. The key to the ultralow thermal conductivity, Kanatzidis says, appears to be the pleated arrangement of tin and selenium atoms in the material, which looks like an accordion. The pattern seems to help the atoms flex when hit by heat-transmitting vibrations called phonons, thus dampening SbSe’s ability to conduct heat.

In addition to marking a big step toward thermoelectrics with a ZT of 3, Heremans says, the new material offers lessons on how to get there. Most likely, he says, researchers will try to boost the semiconductor’s electrical conductivity by spiking it with trace amounts of “dopant” atoms, while preserving the key accordionlike atomic arrangement. If anyone succeeds in producing a high-ZT material, Heremans says, it could lead to new, cheaper hybrid car engines in which the internal combustion engine doesn’t power the car, but rather generates heat that thermoelectric devices convert into electricity to power an electric motor.

Nature -Ultralow thermal conductivity and high thermoelectric figure of merit in SnSe crystals

Kepler-186f is the First Earth sized exoplanet in the habitable zone

Using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the "habitable zone" -- the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun.

While planets have previously been found in the habitable zone, they are all at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth and understanding their makeup is challenging. Kepler-186f is more reminiscent of Earth.

April 17, 2014

How China Manages Urbanization is Critical

Over the past three decades and a half, China's urban population has risen from less than one-fifth of the total to more than half, which means about 500 million people have been added to the urban population. By 2030, up to 70 percent of China's population is likely to live in cities - that is, one in every six urbanites in the world will live in China.

This is an opinion article by an author who is the World Bank chief economist for the East Asia and Pacific Region.

How China urbanizes, therefore, is important not only to China, but also the rest of the world. It is also critical for China's poor. The overwhelming majority of China's 100 million officially poor and the 275 million Chinese that spend less than $2 a day live in rural areas. But the key to getting them out of poverty lies in China's cities.

Immigrants may be over 50% of Russian Population by 2050 and become a predominantly Muslim Country

If current trends continue, half of the population of the Russian Federation in its current borders will consist of immigrants, according to a new Moscow study, a conclusion clearly intended to feed anti-immigrant feelings and, more speculatively, designed to promote a discussion of what can and should be done, including the changing of those borders.

If half of the country’s population in 2050 does in fact consist of migrants, that country will have a Muslim majority, given the share of indigenous Muslim peoples already there. On the one hand, that is a frightening prospect for many Orthodox Russians. But on the other, especially in the current climate, it has more immediate foreign policy consequences.

Were Moscow to annex the two Slavic republics, Ukraine and Belarus, the Russian Federation would retain a non-Muslim majority for far longer, but were it to absorb countries in the Caucasus or Central Asia as part of some restored empire, it would become a Muslim-majority state far sooner.

There is more discussion of the study here

Skylon single stage to orbit hypersonic spaceplane update from January 2014

The Les Sayer Memorial Lecture given by Alan Bond (Aerospace Engineer, Reaction Engines) titled "Skylon: Shaping Tomorrow"


For more information about the NEAS, visit http://www.neas.me.uk/

China stockpiling about 24000 tons of Uranium each year at current low prices

China stockpiled about 24000 tons of extra uranium purchased at the price of about $35 per pound. This was above the 6300 tons that China needed to run their current nuclear reactors. Total 2013 uranium imports into China reached $2.39 billion.

Canada, the world's second largest natural uranium producer, commenced shipping natural uranium to China in 2012.

"In the future, the Athabasca Basin [in Saskatchewan, Canada] will be the biggest source of uranium for the whole world," stated Uranium Guru Thomas Drolet in a recent interview with Financial Press.

China will have higher uranium demands in coming years as more nuclear reactors are completed.

Uranium prices are expected to rebound after Japan restarts most of their nuclear reactors and China completes more nuclear reactors.

Russia finalizes 150 MW MBIR fast neutron research reactor design

A committee of Russian scientists has signed off on the design of a MBIR fast neutron nuclear reactor, moving the project closer to full-scale construction, a research institute involved in the project said Wednesday. Russia, the United States and France signed a deal last June to jointly conduct research at the reactor in Dimitrovgrad in Russia's Volga region, in hopes of studying new types of nuclear fuel, construction materials and coolants.

A multi-purpose international research center will be established as part of the project, which also produce radioactive isotopes for medical purposes. "The research reactor is scheduled to be launched in 2020," according to the East European Main Design and Research Institute of Integrated Power Engineering Technology (VNIPIET).

Picture from 2010 IAEA presentation on the MBIR reactor

Putin declares Russia is Justified to Use Force in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned during a live televised Q and A on Thursday that he would send troops to protect the people of eastern Ukraine and that Kiev gave him just the visuals he needed to revive his faltering narrative about civilians under threat.

Vladimir Putin could not have picked a better day than Thursday, April 17, to hold his annual call-in show on Russian television. Two days earlier, Ukraine’s government had sent its military to fight armed Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

A couple of days ago there was clear evidence that Russian troops are in Eastern Ukraine

[On live Russian Radio two days ago] Two Russian radio hosts were conducting live interviews with a female reporter in the occupied building of the Donetsk Oblast Administration. She mentions that the commander is standing next to her and may consent to an interview. He comes to the microphone and introduces himself as “Paramonov, Pavel Vladimorivich. When asked if he is from Donetsk, he answers: “Of course not, I am a resident of the city of Efremov of Tula oblast” (Tula is a Russian province). When asked what he is doing in Donetsk, he answers: “I am helping a brotherly nation to defend its rights.

You Tube shows a “Green Man” military officer in the Ukrainian town of Gorlovska. His uniform bears no insignias as he addresses about 20 local police, identified as having come over to the “side of the people.” Beside the officer stands a silent portly man in his 40s dressed in the black leather jacket attire of local mafia. The uniformed officer introduces himself as a “Podpolkovnik [lieutenant colonel] of the Russian Army.” He does not give his name. He then proceeds to appoint “black leather jacket” to lead the local ministry of interior, e.g. as the local chief of police. The lieutenant colonel then instructs the police officers to maintain order against those “who have not yet come over to the side of the people.” He instructs them to pin St. George ribbons on their uniforms to signify that they are fighting for the pro-Russian forces. One young policeman asks where the ribbons are. The Russian colonel answers dismissively that they are being “arranged.”

Iraq oil pipeline damaged for 40 days as repair crews get killed but Iraq is now barely a blip in media coverage

Militants whose bombs have shut Iraq's main northern oil export pipeline for 40 days are preventing repairs, threatening to extend an outage that is already the longest since the days of sanctions in the 1990s.

Targeting the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline where it crosses a stretch of desert known as Ain al-Jahash, or Donkey Springs, the saboteurs - described as Islamists by Iraqi officials - have set several more bombs since a first blast halted oil on March 2. Significantly for an Iraqi government hoping for a big rise in exports this year - and long used to brief halts on the route to the Mediterranean - gunmen have also massacred repair crews, prompting oil executives in Mosul to question optimism in Baghdad that the pipeline should be back in action next week.

The militants have benefited from support among Sunnis in Iraq's northwestern desert, who resent both the Shi'ites brought to power in Baghdad by the U.S. overthrow of Sunni Saddam Hussein in 2003 and also of the autonomous Kurds to their east.

Occasional attacks in the past decade have been repaired more quickly. But the latest sabotage has forced the NOC to shut down some production stations in two major oilfields at Kirkuk, squeezing total production to around 225,000 barrels per day (bpd) from around 550,000 bpd before the attack, officials said.

The International Energy Agency has their monthly oil report

Global supplies plunged by 1.2 mb/d to 91.75 mb/d in March, led by steeply lower OPEC output, but remained up by 1.1 mb/d year-on-year, as non‐OPEC growth of 1.98 mb/d more than offset a near-1‑mb/d drop in OPEC crude. Reduced FSU supply expectations helped cut the non-OPEC supply growth forecast by 250 kb/d, to 1.5 mb/d.

OPEC crude oil supplies plummeted by 890 kb/d, to 29.62 mb/d, in March, on lower supplies from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Libya. The ‘call on OPEC crude and stock change’ for the remainder of the year was raised by 300 kb/d to average 30.2 mb/d, reflecting a reduced forecast of non-OPEC supplies.

New MIT floating nuclear plant would be safer and lower cost

A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid problems from Tsunamis and earthquakes. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

Plants could be built in a shipyard, then towed to their destinations five to seven miles offshore, where they would be moored to the seafloor and connected to land by an underwater electric transmission line. The concept takes advantage of two mature technologies: light-water nuclear reactors and offshore oil and gas drilling platforms. Using established designs minimizes technological risks, says Buongiorno, an associate professor of nuclear science and engineering (NSE) at MIT.

April 16, 2014

Google's Modular Phone will be interesting and more expensive for Phones but for modular robots and phone based devices like medical tricorders, Ara will be a killer.

Project Ara is Google’s attempt to reinvent the cellphone as we know it. Instead of a slab of glass and metal that you have no ability to upgrade, save for buying a new device, it’s an attempt to launch a phone where all of the main components are interchangeable via modules that click in and out, attaching via electro-permanent magnets. Despite being highly customizable, it will only come in three main sizes, helping to eliminate the kind of device fragmentation that currently plagues Android. Google plans to roll out a “gray model,” a very basic device that costs as little as $50, as well as higher-end handsets that could go for as much as $500 and up. The former will be released first — around this time next year if all goes according to plan — and will likely be a smaller, Wi-Fi-only version. This bare-bones model will be followed by the higher-end ones eventually. But Google’s initial objective is to ramp up a hardware ecosystem that moves at the same pace as the software it runs.

Google is targeting January 2015 for the first Ara phone endoskeleton. For $50 you’d only get a bare-bones Project Ara endoskeleton, of course — you don’t even get a display.

The first Ara Developers Conference was held April 15-16, 2014.

Smartphone based devices like the Scanadu medical Tricorder will get a big boost from Ara

Smartphone based devices like the medical tricorder will be greatly enabled by the Ara modular phone California-based Scanadu is developing a health-checking scanner packed with sensors called Scout, which the user holds up to their head to check their vitals. The firm says it will be able to measure heart rate, skin and core body temperatures, respiratory rate and blood oxygen levels among other readings. It has no screen of its own, but relies on a smartphone app to interpret the data in order to warn of potential problems

Modular robotics based upon smartphones or tablets will have a lot more flexibility

iRobot Ava 500 is a robot with a tablet for head.

US All Liquids Oil Production over 13 million barrels per day

Brain Machine Interface Exoskeleton will be demonstrated at Soccer's 2014 World Cup in less than 60 days

In less than 60 days, Brazil will begin hosting soccer’s 2014 World Cup, even though workers are hurrying to pour concrete at three unfinished stadiums. At a laboratory in São Paulo, a Duke University neuroscientist is in his own race with the World Cup clock. He is rushing to finish work on a mind-controlled exoskeleton that he says a paralyzed Brazilian volunteer will don, navigate across a soccer pitch using his or her thoughts, and use to make the ceremonial opening kick of the tournament on June 12.

The project, called Walk Again, is led by Miguel Nicolelis, a 53-year-old native of Brazil and one of the biggest names in neuroscience. If it goes as planned, the kick will be a highly public display of research into brain-machine interfaces, a technology that aims to help paralyzed people control machines with their thoughts and restore their ability to get around.

Spacex and NASA have rescheduled a launch until this Friday

SpaceX will attempt a 3:25 p.m. Friday launch from Cape Canaveral of cargo to the International Space Station, the company and NASA confirmed this morning.

The weather forecast is challenging, with a 40 percent chance of conditions that would allow a Falcon 9 rocket to blast off with a Dragon capsule carrying nearly 5,000 pounds of cargo.

SpaceX today blamed the scrub of Monday's first launch attempt on a helium valve in the Falcon 9 rocket's pneumatic stage separation system.

The valve was not holding the right pressure, meaning the system would have relied on a backup valve

Youthful thymus regenerated in older mice

Mutant mice treated with tamoxifen showed total or near-total regeneration of their youthful thymus, while control mice also given tamoxifen showed predictable thymus function for their age. This held true for both the size of the organ itself and the abundance of the T-cells it produces. The regeneration seems to arise from the fact that FOXN1 is a transcription factor that controls expression of several other genes, and that these genes activate stem cell-like action in some thymus cells. By restoring FOXN1 levels, the researchers seem to have convinced the thymus to de-age itself — at least, in this one very specific way.

The researchers are quick to point out the possible benefits to elderly people, or those afflicted by immune diseases. Increasing the ability to fight infection could also revolutionize hospital medicine, helping vulnerable patients fight infection by “overclocking” the thymus to produce a boost of white blood cells. Restoring the immune response of sick and elderly people would be, without an ounce of hyperbole, one of the most important medical advances in all of human history.

Regeneration of the aged thymus by a single transcription factor

Thymic involution is central to the decline in immune system function that occurs with age. By regenerating the thymus, it may therefore be possible to improve the ability of the aged immune system to respond to novel antigens. Recently, diminished expression of the thymic epithelial cell (TEC)-specific transcription factor Forkhead box N1 (FOXN1) has been implicated as a component of the mechanism regulating age-related involution. The effects of upregulating FOXN1 function in the aged thymus are, however, unknown. Here, we show that forced, TEC-specific upregulation of FOXN1 in the fully involuted thymus of aged mice results in robust thymus regeneration characterized by increased thymopoiesis and increased naive T cell output. We demonstrate that the regenerated organ closely resembles the juvenile thymus in terms of architecture and gene expression profile, and further show that this FOXN1-mediated regeneration stems from an enlarged TEC compartment, rebuilt from progenitor TECs. Collectively, our data establish that upregulation of a single transcription factor can substantially reverse age-related thymic involution, identifying FOXN1 as a specific target for improving thymus function and, thus, immune competence in patients. More widely, they demonstrate that organ regeneration in an aged mammal can be directed by manipulation of a single transcription factor, providing a provocative paradigm that may be of broad impact for regenerative biology

New CRISPR/Cas9 Innovative Genomics Initiative

The University of California, Berkeley, and UC San Francisco are launching the Innovative Genomics Initiative (IGI) to lead a revolution in genetic engineering based on a new technology already generating novel strategies for gene therapy and the genetic study of disease.

The Li Ka Shing Foundation has provided a $10 million gift to support the initiative, establishing the Li Ka Shing Center for Genomic Engineering and an affiliated faculty chair at UC Berkeley. The two universities also will provide $2 million in start-up funds.

A new genomic engineering technology significantly cuts down the time it takes researchers to test new therapies. CRISPR/Cas 9 allows the creation in weeks rather than years of animal strains that mimic a human disease, allowing researchers to test new therapies. The technique also makes it quick and easy to knock out genes in human cells or in animals to determine their function, which will speed the identification of new drug targets for diseases.

In the past, for example, making a strain of mice with a specific and heritable genetic mutation took at least a year of costly experiments. Using the Cas9 technique, UC Berkeley immunologist Russell Vance disabled a gene in mice that regulates fur color and in just six weeks had a strain of mice with white coats instead of brown. Similar research in animal models ranging from rodents to primates is being done in labs around the world using the CRISPR/Cas9 technology.

April 15, 2014

Toyota has Atkinson cycle engines that get 78 mpg that will be in 14 car models in 2015

Toyota has launched two new small-displacement, Atkinson cycle engines that get 78 mpg.

Built to power the Japanese-automaker’s Aygo commuter and the 2015 Lexus RC F, respectively, the new Atkinson-cycle engines will come in 1.0 and 1.3L versions. While neither engine will generate frame-crunching torque, their higher compression ratios, improved combustion chamber design, weight reduction and reduced frictional energy loses will mean major gas savings for drivers.

Toyota plans to use the engine in at least 14 car models in 2015 and this is the first time the Atkinson design will be a stand-alone power plant. The Atkinson engine is used in the Toyota Prius.

The Atkinson engine will have 30% better fuel efficiency than the Toyota engine it replaces.

Google X tried to design a Space Elevator

Rich DeVaul, head of Google X's Rapid Evaluation team, has confirmed for the first time ever that Google's research and development lab actually tried to design a space elevator.

"It would be a massive capital investment," he said in this month's issue of Fast Company. But once this hypothetical machine was built, "it could take you from ground to orbit with a net of basically zero energy. It drives down the space-access costs, operationally, to being incredibly low."

NBF - This is not quite correct. The energy is still the electricity to create the change in potential energy.

Space elevator economics are discussed here and here.

Current proposals envision payload prices starting as low as $220 per kilogram ($100 per pound), similar to the $5–$300/kg estimates of the Launch loop, but higher than the $310/ton to 500 km orbit quoted to Dr. Jerry Pournelle for an orbital airship system.

If SpaceX is successful in developing the reusable technology, it is expected to significantly reduce the cost of access to space, and change the increasingly competitive market in space launch services. The Falcon 9 has a published cost of US$56.5 million per launch to low Earth orbit, "Falcon 9 rockets are already the cheapest in the industry. Reusable Falcon 9s could drop the price by an order of magnitude, sparking more space-based enterprise, which in turn would drop the cost of access to space still further through economies of scale. Space industry analyst Ajay Kothari has noted that SpaceX reusable technology could do for space transport "what jet engines did for air transportation sixty years ago when people never imagined that more than 500 million passengers would travel by airplanes every year and that the cost could be reduced to the level it is—all because of passenger volume and reliable reusability." SpaceX has said that if they are successful in developing the reusable technology, launch prices of around US$5 to 7 million for a reusable Falcon 9 are possible. Spacex could even bring the cost down to US$1 million by reusing a rocket hundreds of times like a commercial jetplane.

One use Falcon 9 rocket launch cost $1,862/lb
One use Falcon Heavy launch cost $1000/lb
First stage reusable Falcon 9 launch cost $1200/lb
First stage reusable Falcon Heavy launch cost $600/lb
Reusable (about fifteen times) Falcon 9 rocket launch cost all stages reusable $100/lb

April 14, 2014

Future Capitalism would be saved if there is robust 4-5% or higher growth from Technological Progress

Nextbigfuture has summarized the work of Thomas Piketty on a historical analysis of income and wealth and wealth distribution. Thomas Piketty feels that Capitalism faces a big future problem where capital returns (r) are at 4-5% per year.

The end of convergence [rise of China, India and other countries after they catch up]implies that all advanced countries will grow at the rate of technological progress which, Piketty believes, is around 1- 1.5% per year. Add to it 1% population growth and g cannot exceed 2.5% per year. If r remains, as Piketty thinks, at its historical rate of 4-5%p.a., all the negative developments from the 19th century will be repeated.

NBF - Therefore if technological progress enables more economic growth at say 5% or higher then growth keeps pace with the return on assets.

Financial Impact and Opportunity of Silex Laser Enrichment and Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor

Levis Kochin writes at SeekingAlpha. Levis is an investor in Silex and Terrestrial Energy. Nextbigfuture has covered the Silex process for laser uranium enrichment and Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor.

Some of the Nextbigfuture coverage of Silex and Terrestrial Energy

Costs and economics of Terrestrial Energy's Integral Molten Salt Reactor [nextbigfuture]

Terrestrial Energy Video update [nextbigfuture]

Terrestrial Energy successfully closed its final seed round of financing [nextbigfuture]

Laser Uranium Enrichment has completed first test loop [nextbigfuture]

GE SILEX laser uranium enrichment [nextbigfuture]

The Financial Impact Analysis of Levis Kochin

Levis Kochin is an associate Professor of Economics at the University of Washington, Seattle Campus. He earned my Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1975. Lester Telser and Milton Friedman were his advisors. He have taught at the University of Washington since 1973. He has also worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Bank of Israel, and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

* Silex will cut the cost of nuclear fuel, a minor cost of nuclear power. Terrestrial Energy will cut the capital cost of nuclear plants- the major cost of nuclear power.

* Eighty percent of the cost of nuclear power is the capital cost of the power plant. The fuel is less than ten percent.

* Integral Molten Salt Reactor powered electricity give promise of being cheaper and safer cheaper than coal or conventional nuclear powered electricity.

Silex - a public company - is an attractive investment opportunity. Its technology for laser enrichment of uranium is markedly lower cost than the centrifuge enrichment technology of its competitors. Its licensee Global Laser Enrichment will over time take over the Uranium enrichment market and Silex is likely to receive royalties which are a multiple of the cap value of Silex. But the disruptive effect of laser enrichment is narrow. The prospects of nuclear power are only marginally affected because uranium enrichment is a small portion of nuclear power costs. Terrestrial Energy is attacking the main costs of nuclear power- capital costs, safety and waste disposal. If Terrestrial Energy succeeds, a substantial number of important public companies in nuclear reactor construction and coal will lose much of their capital value. The value of companies exploiting the oil sands will, on the other hand, be substantially enhanced.

Enrichment represents about 30% of the cost of nuclear fuel. But nuclear fuel represents only 10% of the total cost of nuclear power. The total value of nuclear electricity in the world at wholesale is about $200 Billion per year. The total value of nuclear fuel is about $20 Billion per year. (All valuations in this article are stated in U.S. dollars.)The world enrichment market is worth about $7 billion per year. Two manufacturers of centrifuges, one Russian (Rosatom) and one West European (Enrichment Technology Company) both manufacturing centrifuges designed by Gernot Zippe while a prisoner in the Soviet Union, have over 90% of the uranium enrichment centrifuge market.

Carnival of Space 349

The Carnival of Space 349 is up at Universe Today

Universe Today - You may have heard that CERN announced the discovery of a strange particle known as Z(4430). The new particle is about 4 times more massive than a proton, has a negative charge, and appears to be a theoretical particle known as a tetraquark. The results are still young, but if this discovery holds up it could have implications for our understanding of neutron stars.

Carnival of Nuclear Energy 204

Capitalism is not working - analysis of 200 years of data shows worsening inequality is an inevitable outcome of free market capitalism

What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.

UPDATE : A look at the reviews of other economists to the Piketty work and a look a central Piketty prediction that global growth will collapse from 2020-2100.

Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality--the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth--today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past, Piketty says, and may do so again.

A work of extraordinary ambition, originality, and rigor, Capital in the Twenty-First Century reorients our understanding of economic history and confronts us with sobering lessons for today.

The book draws on reams of data from the United States and numerous other countries. Most of the data comes from income tax records and estate tax/inheritance records. The sheer quantity of data that underlies Piketty's conclusions is unprecedented, and as a result his work deserves a great deal of credibility.

While the book is quite long, the major conclusion can be summarized very briefly: Piketty has found that, over the long run, the return on capital is higher than the growth rate of the overall economy. In other words, accumulated and inherited wealth becomes a larger fraction of the economic pie over time. This happens more or less automatically, and there is no reason to believe this trend will change or reverse course.

Piketty argues that the reduction in inequality in developed countries after World War II was a "one-off" that was driven entirely by political choices and policies. It did not happen automatically. Those policies have now been largely reversed, especially in the United States. As a result the drive toward increased inequality is likely to be relentless.

Piketty's solution is a global wealth tax. While this seems politically unfeasible, he argues that it is the only thing likely to work.

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