Suffer No More

Millions of diabetes sufferers face the daily grind of frequent and painful skin prick tests to monitor their blood sugar levels.

Now researchers have developed an innovative alternative that could reveal the same information in the blink of an eye.

A team from The University of Akron have developed a contact lens that senses glucose which is the blood sugar in tears, the natural fluid that bathes the eye.

If sugar is not being metabolized properly and glucose concentration builds up in the body, the contact lens will detect a problem and change color.

“It works just like pH paper in your high school chemistry lab”, said Dr Jun Hu.

“The sugar molecule literally acts like the proton in a pH test, displacing a color dye embedded in the lens, and the lens changes color.”

Usually when you dissolve sugars in water you can’t see them. Dr Hu has used a molecule, called a probe, that binds well to sugars that they then combined with a dye. When sugar concentrations rise the sugar binds to the probe and knocks the dye loose, causing a color change.

The person wearing the lens wouldn’t notice the change unless they looked in the mirror, so the team are now designing an app that will calculate sugar levels from a camera phone snap of the eye.

Dr Hu said, “This device could be used to detect subtle changes in blood sugar levels for tight management of diabetes. It can also be used to identify patients with pre-diabetic conditions, allowing early diagnosis that is crucial for preventing diabetes from advancing.”

“The convenience of contact lenses could boost patient compliance to blood sugar testing, as it will reduce discomfort, inconvenience, and even cost.”

“In addition, blood sugar also changes rapidly throughout a normal, active day, so a device that can monitor glucose many times in a day will provide diabetic patients with a very powerful tool in combating such a damaging condition.”

The lens is currently at the prototype phase but scientists say they could be commercially available within three years if all goes well.

The next step will be to check that the dye binds completely to the contact lens and does not leach as this could be dangerous to the eye.

Puppy Love

For more than 32,000 years, dogs have been our faithful companions, living, eating and breathing with us as we moved from cave-dwellers to city-builders.

Around this time, we lost our closest cousins – and, many argue, our competitors: Neanderthal man, who had previously occupied present-day Europe for a staggering

Glad we didn’t become this guy!

250,000 years.

Now, an anthropologist is suggesting these two facts may be related – and it was our close friendship with our canine associates that tipped the balance in favor of modern man.

Pat Shipman said that the advantages that domesticating a dog brought for us were so fundamental to our own evolution, that it made us ‘top dog’ out of the competing primate species.

Shipman analyzed the results of excavations of fossilized canine bones from Europe, during the time when humans and Neanderthals overlapped.

The research first established a framework to our early ‘best friend’ relationships, with early humans adding dog teeth to jewelry, showing how they were worshipped, and rarely adorning cave art with images of dogs – implying dogs were treated with a reverence not shown to the animals they hunted.

The advantages dogs gave early man were huge – the animals themselves were likely to be larger than our modern day pooches, at least the size of German Shepherds.

Because of this, they could be used as ‘beasts of burden’, carrying animal carcasses and supplies from place to place, leaving humans to reserve their energies for the hunt.

In return, the animals gained warmth, food and companionship, or, as Shipman puts it, ‘a virtuous circle of cooperation’.

They may also have influenced how we communicate. Humans and dogs are the only animals which have large ‘whites of the eyes’, and will follow the gaze of another person. This has not been found in other species, and it is argued that, as our man-dog relationship evolved, we learned to use these non-verbal cues more often.

As such, dogs became one of the first tools, or technologies, that humanity began to use, and as the relationship developed both ways, it became a lot more deeply ingrained into our psyche.

And, in those early days where every advantage was needed to survive, Neanderthal man might simply have been unable to cope with the new species which rapidly moved across Europe.

In short, Shipman said: ‘Animals were not incidental to our evolution into Homo sapiens – They were essential to it. They are what made us human.’

Attribution: Eddie Wrenn

That’s a Turtle

Picture a turtle the size of a Smart car, with a shell large enough to double as a children’s pool.

Paleontologists from North Carolina State University have found just such a specimen – the fossilized remains of a 60-million-year-old South American giant that lived in what is now Colombia.

The turtle in question is Carbonemys cofrinii, which means ‘coal turtle’, and it is part of a group of turtles known as pelomedusoides.

The specimen’s skull measures 24 centimeters (9-1/2 inches), and the shell, which was recovered nearby and is believed to belong to the same animal, measures 172 centimeters, or about 5 feet 7 inches, long.

Ironically, that’s the same height as Edwin Cadena, the NC State doctoral student who discovered the fossil.

The fossil was named Carbonemys because it was discovered in 2005 in a coal mine that was part of northern Colombia’s Cerrejon formation.

Dr. Dan Ksepka, NC State paleontologist and research associate at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, believes that this is because a turtle of this size would need a large territory in order to obtain enough food to survive. Ksepka said: “It’s like having one big snapping turtle living in the middle of a lake.”

“That turtle survives because it has eaten all of the major competitors for resources. We found many bite-marked shells at this site that show crocodilians preyed on side-necked turtles.”

“None would have bothered an adult Carbonemys. In fact smaller crocs would have been easy prey for this behemoth.”

Cadena said: “We had recovered smaller turtle specimens from the site. But after spending about four days working on uncovering the shell, I realized that this particular turtle was the biggest anyone had found in this area for this time period and it gave us the first evidence of giantism in freshwater turtles.”

Smaller relatives of Carbonemys existed alongside dinosaurs, but the giant version appeared five million years after the dinosaurs vanished, during a period when giant varieties of many different reptiles, including Titanoboa cerrejonensis (about 43 ft), the largest snake ever discovered – lived in this part of South America.

Researchers believe that a combination of changes in the ecosystem, including fewer predators, a larger habitat area, plentiful food supply and climate changes, worked together to allow these giant species to survive. Carbonemys’ habitat would have resembled a much warmer modern-day Orinoco or Amazon River delta.

In addition to the turtle’s huge size, the fossil also shows that this particular turtle had massive, powerful jaws that would have enabled the omnivore to eat anything nearby – from molluscs to smaller turtles or even crocodiles.

Thus far, only one specimen of this size has been recovered.

The paleontologists’ findings appear in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. Dr. Carlos Jaramillo from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Dr. Jonathan Bloch from the Florida Museum of Natural History contributed to the work.

Attribution: Science Tech, Mail Online

Smart Shoe

GPS technology can help Alzheimer’s sufferers and their caregivers, with the release of a shoe that tracks the wearer’s position and plots their position on Google Maps.

The GPS Smart Shoe embeds a GPS receiver and SIM card to send the shoe’s position to a private tracking website – helping to find people if they wander off.

With an estimated 5 million sufferers in the U.S., manufacturer Aetrex said they wanted to use technology to enable extra support.

The shoes are available for both men and women, with either straps or shoelaces, and sell for around $300 a pair, with a monthly service plan of $30.

The transmitter is embedded in the base of the right heel and tracks the user’s location in real time, sending that data at specified intervals to a central monitoring station.

If the wearer ever leaves a specified zone, the caregiver can track their whereabouts on the Aetrex website, which uses Google Maps to plot the position.

When the wearer wanders off wearing the GPS Shoe, their caregiver will immediately receive a geo-fence alert on their smartphone and computer, with a direct link to a Google map plotting the wanderer’s location.

The company is also talking to various Alzheimer associations to explore various partnerships.

If there is a downside to the technology, it is that the battery life of the GPS receiver lasts only two days – so it could run flat if no-one remembers to charge it.

However an email alert is sent to the caregiver when the battery is low.

The website AllThingsDigital asked Evan Schwartz, the company founder, if there was any risk to the product in terms of surveillance concerns.

He said: “It’s all kinds of good and bad and ugly popping up when it comes to GPS tech these days, and that’s definitely a concern.”

“There are enough people who make jokes about tracking a spouse, or what if you threw the shoe in the trunk of someone’s car and they never know it’s being used for that, that sort of thing.”

“But at the same time, this shoe has been designed to serve a purpose, and it’s to help caregivers, so we have a hard time believing someone would abuse this.”

Hand to Mouth has New Meaning

A paralyzed man has regained the use of his hand after he had a pioneering operation to bypass damage to his spinal cord.

The 71-year-old patient injured the lowest bone in his neck in a car crash in June 2008.
The damage to the C7 vertebra left him without the use of his legs and only limited shoulder, elbow and wrist function.

He also lost the use of his hand because while the nerve circuit in his hand was intact, the connection between his brain and digits had been lost.

Surgeons at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis restored this link by rerouting working nerves in his upper arm.’

The patient can now pinch his thumb and index fingers together using nerves that once told his brain to bend at the elbow.

Senior researcher Dr Ida K Fox said, “This procedure is unusual for treating quadriplegia because we do not attempt to go back into the spinal cord where the injury is. Instead, we go out to where we know things work – in this case the elbow – so that we can borrow nerves there and reroute them to give hand function.”

The successful operation means the patient can now feed himself and even write.
“Many times these patients say they would like to be able to do very simple things,” Dr Fox said.

“If we can restore the ability to pinch, between thumb and index finger, it can return some very basic independence.”

The surgery was developed and performed by Dr Susan E. Mackinnon. Specializing in injuries to peripheral nerves, she has pioneered similar surgeries to return function to injured arms and legs.

She said hand function was not restored right away and that the patient had to undergo intensive physical therapy to retrain the brain to understand how the role of the nerves had changed.

Dr Mackinnon said another patient with a similar injury could be treated at any time as their case study received the surgery two years after his accident.
She said nerves run out from the spinal cord ‘like spaghetti’ to the tips of the fingers and toes.

Nerves remained healthy as they were still connected to the spinal cord, however the nerves could no longer ‘talk’ to the brain because the spinal cord injury blocks them.
To detour around the block in this patient’s C7 spinal cord injury and return hand function below the level of the injury, Mackinnon operated in the upper arms.

There, the working nerves that connect above the injury and the non-working nerves that connect below the injury run parallel to each other, making it possible to tap into a functional nerve and direct those signals to a non-functional neighbor.

In this case, Mackinnon took a non-working nerve that controls the ability to pinch and plugged it into a working nerve that drives one of two muscles that flex the elbow.
After the surgery, the bicep still flexes the elbow, but a second muscle, called the brachialis, that used to also provide elbow flexion, now bends the thumb and index finger.

“This is not a particularly expensive or overly complex surgery,” Dr Mackinnon said. “It’s not a hand or a face transplant, for example. It’s something we would like other surgeons around the country to do.”

Attribution: Claire Bates

Shipwreck Ale

A shipwreck off the coast of Finland may hold the key to beer fanatics enjoying a brew which was created over 170 years ago.

Finnish researchers say they may be able to recreate beer from the 1840s after finding living bacteria in beer from the sunken ship near Aaland Islands in the Baltic Sea.

The 2010 discovery of the ship, believed to have sunk in the 1840s, also included the world’s oldest champagne considered drinkable, which has since been auctioned off.
Researchers analyzed two bottles of beer, which they admitted ‘had not stood the test of time well’ but retained a pale golden color and could originally have had hints of rose, almond and cloves.

‘Based on the chemical analysis we made of the beer and with help from a master brewer it would be possible to try to make beer that would resemble it as much as possible,’ Annika Wilhelmson from VTT technical research center of Finland said.

The wreck lies off Aaland, an autonomous part of Finland.

The name of the sunken vessel is still unknown, as is its destination.

It has been speculated that the cargo was bound for the Russian Tsar’s court in St Petersburg.

When it was unearthed, officials stated they believed the beer was the oldest in the world.

‘We believe these are by far the world’s oldest bottles of beer,’ Rainer Juslin, a spokesman for the local government of Aaland, said in a statement in 2010.

The enviable haul was found intact on the seabed at a depth of 50 meters.

‘The constant temperature and light levels have provided optimal conditions for storage, and the pressure in the bottles has prevented any seawater from seeping in through the corks,’ the statement said.

The discovery also consisted of the world’s oldest champagne of the labels Veuve Clicquot, Juglar and Heidsieck.

A total of 145 bottles of champagne were salvaged.

A bottle of shipwrecked Veuve Clicquot sold for $43,630, surpassing the world auction record.

Flight before Wright

While Rebel and Union soldiers still fought it out with bayonets and cannons, a Confederate designer had the foresight to imagine flying machines attacking Northern armies. He couldn’t implement his vision during the war, and the plans disappeared into history, until resurfacing at a rare book dealer’s shop 150 years later.

Now those rediscovered designs have found their way to the auction block, providing a glimpse at how Victorian-era technolgy could have beaten the Wright Brothers to the punch.

The papers of Dr. R. Finley Hunt, a dentist with a passion for flight, describe scenarios where flying machines bombed Federal troops across Civil War battlefields. Hunt’s papers went up for sale at the Artifacts auction during the week of Sept. 15-22, 2011, and gave one lucky collector a piece of an alternate technological history that never came to pass.

“It’s incredible for someone who loves early aviation, because it poses the great question of ‘What if?'” said Bobby Livingston, vice president of sales and marketing with RR Auction. “What if planes had appeared above the wilderness when (Union Gen. Ulysses S.) Grant began his campaign in the Shenandoah Valley?”

The hardback collection includes pencil drawings of wings, propellers and a multicylinder steam engine. Hunt’s design drew inspiration from his love of studying any and all flying methods found in nature, despite his own lack of professional expertise.

But Hunt found it difficult to find an engineer willing to build the device, despite getting the help of Confederate President Jefferson Davis to have the proposal considered. Letters between Hunt and a Confederate review board show that other engineers had strong doubts about the “steam flying machine”.

First, the engineers said Hunt had dramatically overestimated the engine’s power and ability to keep the machine flying. They also described another error in Hunt’s reasoning as being “so obvious on reflection that no discussion is required.”

“When they turned him down, it was over the science of it,” Livingston told InnovationNewsDaily. “But they considered it, and considered it a lot.”

Hunt refused to take no for an answer. The papers include another letter to Davis, wherein Hunt tries to defend his flying theories and asks for assistance from a machinist. In the end, the Confederates decided against spending money to fund the project.

Still, the Confederates did deploy several other innovative war machines. Their ironclad steamship, the CSS Virginia, fought against the USS Monitor in the world’s first duel between ironclads. A Confederate submarine called the H.L. Hunley also made its mark in history as the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy ship.

Both the Union and Confederate sides also flew manned balloons to scout different battlefields.

As for Hunt, he went to Washington, D.C., and got patent a on his device after the Civil War ended in 1865. He also built several working models and was still attempting to get financing in 1872. Yet he never saw his vision take flight.

“It looks to me like he’s 40 years before the Wright brothers with a rotary engine driving propellers, but I don’t know how close he was,” Livingston said. “He never got the money to do it.”

Attribution: Air & Space, InnovationNewsDaily

Must be Sunspots

A unbelievably large sunspot has appeared in the past few days, which could mean the Earth is about to be blasted by powerful solar storms.

Known as AR 1476, it was spotted by Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, which launched in 2010.

Its diameter of 60,000 miles is many times that of the Earth, which measures just under 8,000 miles across.

The sunspot is so enormous that it’s possible to view with home telescopes – though experts warn that these must be fitted with sun filters to prevent permanent eye damage.

In a tweet, the SDO mission described the sunspot as a ‘monster’ and predicted that a huge solar flare – or coronal mass ejection – could erupt as a result, meaning the Earth would be hosed by radiation travelling at up to 5million mph.

Sunspots often travel in pairs and are darker than the surrounding area because they are slightly cooler, which makes them less luminous. They are caused by the sun’s magnetic field becoming twisted – and it’s this twisting dynamic that can produce coronal mass ejections. These contain billions of tons of gases bursting with X-rays and ultraviolet radiation. They are mind-bogglingly hot – around 100,000,0000C.

The Earth is occasionally hit by these ejections, leading to amazing shimmering light shows. They are the result of ionized solar particles becoming imprisoned by Earth’s magnetic field, exciting the gases in the atmosphere and emitting bursts of energy in the form of light.

However, these particles can also cause magnetic storms, which in extreme cases have been known to disrupt satellites and electrical grids. In 1989, a CME was responsible for leaving six million people in Quebec, Canada, without power.

Solar activity runs in 11-year cycles, with the current one peaking in 2013, so more violent space weather is on the horizon.

Dr Matthew Penn, of the National Solar Observatory in Arizona, said recently, ‘Because the sun is becoming more active, it will have an impact on millions of people. Sunspots can cause the biggest and most damaging space storms that occur.

He added, ‘During the next two years, we are expecting the number of sunspots visible on the sun to reach a maximum. We know that sunspots are the source of a lot of space weather and solar storms, so we expect a larger number of solar storms here at the Earth.’

Four Dwarfs of the Apocolypse

The shattered remains of planets that bear a striking resemblance to our own Earth have been found around white dwarf stars – offering a vision of what will one day happen to our planet.

University of Warwick astrophysicists found four white dwarves surrounded by the dust of shattered planets.

White dwarfs are the final stage of life of stars like our Sun – once the thermonuclear furnace inside a star ‘burns out’.

 Using the Hubble Space Telescope to carry out the biggest survey to date of the chemical composition of the atmospheres of white dwarf stars, the researchers found that the most frequently occurring elements in the dust around these four white dwarfs were oxygen, magnesium, iron and silicon — the four elements that make up roughly 93 percent of the Earth.

It’s evidence that the small, dense stars are surrounded by the ‘corpses’ of worlds they’ve ‘eaten’.

At least one of the stars is in the process of sucking in the planet’s core – rich in iron, nickel and sulphur – at a rate of around a million kilos a second. 

Professor Boris Gänsicke of the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick, who led the study, said the destructive process which caused the discs of dust around these distant white dwarfs is likely to one day play out in our own solar system.

‘What we are seeing today in these white dwarfs several hundred light-years away could well be a snapshot of the very distant future of the Earth.

‘As stars like our Sun reach the end of their life, they expand to become red giants when the nuclear fuel in their cores is depleted.

‘When this happens in our own solar system, billions of years from now, the Sun will engulf the inner planets Mercury and Venus. It’s unclear whether the Earth will also be swallowed up by the Sun in its red giant phase — but even if it survives, its surface will be roasted.

‘During the transformation of the Sun into a white dwarf, it will lose a large amount of mass, and all the planets will move further out. This may destabilize the orbits and lead to collisions between planetary bodies as happened in the unstable early days of our solar system.

‘This may even shatter entire terrestrial planets, forming large amounts of asteroids, some of which will have chemical compositions similar to those of the planetary core. In our solar system, Jupiter will survive the late evolution of the Sun unscathed, and scatter asteroids, new or old, towards the white dwarf.

However an even more significant observation was that this material also contained an extremely low proportion of carbon, which matched very closely that of the Earth and the other rocky planets orbiting closest to our own Sun.

This is the first time that such low proportions of carbon have been measured in the atmospheres of white dwarf stars polluted by debris.

This clear evidence that these stars once had at least one rocky exoplanet which they have now destroyed, the observations must also pinpoint the last phase of the death of these worlds.

The atmosphere of a white dwarf is made up of hydrogen and/or helium, so any heavy elements that come into their atmosphere are dragged downwards to their core and out of sight within a matter of days by the dwarf’s high gravity.

Given this, the astronomers must literally be observing the final phase of the death of these worlds as the material rains down on the stars at rates of up to 1 million kilograms every second.

Not only is this clear evidence that these stars once had rocky exoplanetary bodies which have now been destroyed, the observations of one particular white dwarf, PG0843+516, may also tell the story of the destruction of these worlds.

This star stood out from the rest owing to the relative overabundance of the elements iron, nickel and sulphur in the dust found in its atmosphere. Iron and nickel are found in the cores of terrestrial planets, as they sink to the center owing to the pull of gravity during planetary formation, and so does sulphur thanks to its chemical affinity to iron.
Therefore, researchers believe they are observing White Dwarf PG0843+516 in the very act of swallowing up material from the core of a rocky planet that was large enough to undergo differentiation, similar to the process that separated the core and the mantle of the Earth.

The University of Warwick led team surveyed more than 80 white dwarfs within a few hundred light-years of the Sun, using the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph onboard the Hubble Space Telescope.

Empathetic Canines

Your dog might understand you more than you think.

It appears dogs can ‘catch’ yawns from humans – but it seems to work best when there’s a bond between dog and man.

Dogs yawn even when they only hear the sound of their owners doing the same, researchers have found.

A study found that nearly half of all dogs yawned when played a recording of a human being making such a noise.

But when the yawn played belonged to their owners, the canines were five times more likely than if the voice belonged to a stranger.

The researchers said it was further proof that dogs empathize with their owners and understand what they are going through.

In her report behavioral biologist Karine Silva, the lead researcher, said: ‘These results suggest that dogs have the capacity to empathize with humans’.

Previous studies have found that dogs are among the few non-human animals to yawn – others include macaques, baboons and chimpanzees.

When somebody ‘catches’ another person’s yawn it has long been taken as a sign you understand what they are going through – and are tired as well.

To see if canines do the same researchers from University of Porto in Portugal tested 29 dogs which had lived with their owners for at least six months.

They recorded the owners yawning and played the recordings to their dogs, along with the yawn of an unfamiliar woman and a control sound, which was a yawn noise played backwards.

The dogs were given two sessions one week apart and the number of yawns for each noise was monitored.

The results showed that when dogs heard their owners they were by far more likely to yawn than under any other set of circumstances.

Scientists who were not involved in the study said it gave new insight into human and dog relations.

Evan McLean, a Ph.D. student at Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center in Durham, North Carolina, told Science Now: ‘This study tells us something new about the mechanisms underlying contagious yawning in dogs.

‘As in humans, dogs can catch this behavior using their ears alone’.

But Ádám Miklósi, an ethologist at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, raised a note of scepticism and said that previous studies showed dogs looked guilty even when they were not.

He and said: ‘Using behaviors as indicators will only show some similarity in behavior, but it will never tell us whether canine empathy, whatever this is, matches human empathy.

‘Dogs can simulate very well different forms of social interest that could mislead people to think they are controlled by the same mental processes, but they may not always understand the complexity of human behavior.’

The research will be published in the July issue of Animal Cognition.

Attribution: Daily Mail