Thursday, September 14, 2017

How a flamingo balances on one leg

Some of the built-in tricks for extreme bird balancers work without muscle effort.

A question flamingo researchers get asked all the time — why the birds stand on one leg — may need rethinking. The bigger puzzle may be why flamingos bother standing on two. Balance aids built into the birds’ basic anatomy allow for a one-legged stance that demands little muscular effort, tests find. This stance is so exquisitely stable that a bird sways less to keep itself upright when it appears to be dozing than when it’s alert with eyes open, two Atlanta neuromechanists report May 24 in Biology Letters.
“Most of us aren’t aware that we’re moving around all the time,” says Lena Ting of Emory University, who measures what’s called postural sway in standing people as well as in animals. Just keeping the human body vertical demands constant sensing and muscular correction for wavering.  Even standing robots “are expending quite a bit of energy,” she says. That could have been the case for flamingos, she points out, since effort isn’t always visible.

Hidden hip

Translate that improbably long flamingo leg into human terms, and the visible part of the leg would be just the shin down. A flamingo’s hip and knee lie inside the bird’s body.

Ting and Young-Hui Chang of the Georgia Institute of Technology tested balance in fluffy young Chilean flamingos coaxed onto a platform attached to an instrument that measures how much they sway. Keepers at Zoo Atlanta hand-rearing the test subjects let researchers visit after feeding time in hopes of catching youngsters inclined toward a nap — on one leg on a machine. “Patience,” Ting says, was the key to any success in this experiment.
As a flamingo standing on one foot  shifted to preen a feather or joust with a neighbor, the instrument tracked wobbles in the foot’s center of pressure, the spot where the bird’s weight focused. When a bird tucked its head onto its pillowy back and shut its eyes, the center of pressure made smaller adjustments (within a radius of 3.2 millimeters on average, compared with 5.1 millimeters when active).

Museum bones revealed features of the skeleton that might enhance stability, but bones alone didn’t tell the researchers enough. Deceased Caribbean flamingos a zoo donated to science gave a better view. “The ‘ah-ha!’ moment was when I said, ‘Wait, let’s look at it in a vertical position,’” Ting remembers. All of a sudden, the bird specimen settled naturally into one-legged lollipop alignment.
In flamingo anatomy, the hip and the knee lie well up inside the body. What bends in the middle of the long flamingo leg is not a knee but an ankle (which explains why to human eyes a walking flamingo’s leg joint bends the wrong way). The bones themselves don’t seem to have a strict on-off locking mechanism, though Ting has observed bony crests, double sockets and other features that could facilitate stable standing.
The bird’s distribution of weight, however, looked important for one-footed balance. The flamingo’s center of gravity was close to the inner knee where bones started to form the long column to the ground, giving the precarious-looking position remarkable stability. The specimen’s body wasn’t as stable on two legs, the researchers found.
Reinhold Necker of Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, is cautious about calling one-legged stances an energy saver. “The authors do not consider the retracted leg,” says Necker, who has studied flamingos. Keeping that leg retracted could take some energy, even if easy balancing saves some, he proposes.
The new study takes an important step toward understanding how flamingos stand on one leg, but doesn’t explain why, comments Matthew Anderson, a comparative psychologist at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He’s found that more flamingos rest one-legged when temperatures drop, so he proposes that keeping warm might have something to do with it. The persistent flamingo question still stands.

Microbes survived inside giant cave crystals for up to 50,000 years

BOSTON — Microbes found stowed inside giant crystals in caves in Chihuahua, Mexico, may have survived there for tens of thousands of years. The microorganisms, which appear to be vastly different from nearly all life-forms found on Earth, offer a good indication of how resilient life can be in extremely harsh environments, including those found on other planets.
“These organisms are so extraordinary,” astrobiologist Penelope Boston said February 17 during a news conference at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They are not close to any known genus scientists have been able to identify, said Boston, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute in Moffett Field, Calif. Their closest relatives live in caves halfway around the world or in volcanic soils or thrive on compounds such as toluene.

For eight years, Boston and her colleagues have been studying microbes deep inside the Naica lead, silver and zinc mine. Some microorganisms were discovered trapped in fluid pockets inside massive crystals of calcium sulfate. Analysis suggests that the microbes may have been tucked away in these tiny time capsules for 10,000 to 50,000 years and may have been dormant for some or all of that time. But they “remained viable in some fashion and were able to be regrown,” she said. Her team reawakened the microbes in the lab and studied their genetic material, along with genetic material from other organisms found in the walls of the cave and other areas near the crystals.
The microbes found inside the crystals appear to be similar but not identical to those living outside, on the cave walls and other nearby areas, Boston said. That leaves Boston and her team fairly confident that the samples were not contaminated with other microbes and that their age estimates for the crystal-trapped microbes is solid. The team has not yet published the result. If confirmed, the microbes would represent some of the toughest extremophiles on the planet — dwelling at depths 100 to 400 meters below Earth’s surface and enduring temperatures of 45° to 65° Celsius.
“Any extremophile system that we’re studying actually allows us to push the envelope of life further,” Boston said. “We add it to this atlas of possibilities that we can apply to different planetary settings.”
Studies like these show that some microbes are hardy creatures, willing to turn just about any habitat into a home. That’s promising for the hunt for life beyond Earth. It’s problematic, however, as researchers start to think about sending probes to potentially habitable worlds, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Boston’s discovery is a reminder of how little scientists know about the microbes on Earth. And that means there are unknowns about what life-forms could stow away on spacecraft sent to other worlds, says Cassie Conley, NASA’s planetary protection officer.
“If you took some of these organisms from Earth and put them elsewhere, they may do just fine,” she says. That’s not so great for studying any native life that might be there. The Earth-based life could take over and contaminate those worlds.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Quick Facts About Anaerobic Digestion Process

1. There are four key biological/ chemical reaction stages of anaerobic digestion:
2. Almost any organic matter can be digested anaerobically. Not all will produce enough biogas to be 
    viable though.
3. Anaerobic digestion occurs in nature at all temperatures, but below 10 degrees centigrade the rate 
   of biogas production is so slow that running a biogas process is usually considered not viable, for 
   any form of biogas generation system.
4. There are two temperature ranges over which the many micro-organisms which produce biogas 
    work most efficiently. These are known as the:
  • Mesophilic
  • Thermophilic
    Temperature ranges, with the optimum temperature usually considered to be at the top of the range.
5. The process is truly ancient:
  • Fermentation for the production of alcohol was known to the Ancient Egyptians and is recorded  as far back as 2,000 BC.
  • The methane producing stage of anaerobic digestion is performed by a type of micro-organism known as archaea. It's not a bacteria. In fact in comes from a distinctly different branch of the phylogenetic tree of life to bacteria.

Benefits of Anaerobic Digestion

a) Environmental Benefits

  • Reduces carbon emissions and can contribute to national renewable energy targets
  • Only biogas (and some carbon dioxide) is taken out, so valuable nutrients are recycled back into the soil
  • Digestate may also be used as a feedstock for other biofuel production and for innovative fibre building materials
  • AD creates skilled ‘green’ jobs and contributes to growth in the local economy
  • When used in conjunction with segregated municipal waste collection, it reduces waste sent to landfill
  • Sanitizes waste output providing a reduced public health hazard/ reduces pollution risk.

b) Benefits to Those That Own and Operate AD Plants

  • Landfill taxation costs reduced, transportation costs can be less
  • Owning an AD plant lends authority to the owner organizations green credentials
  • Possible government incentive payments available
  • Secures a reliable long-term waste disposal route for the plant owners own waste
  • Potential for truly profitable sales of outputs.

Danish company to fuel 10,000 Audis with Biogas

The Danish energy concern Nature Energy has recently entered into an agreement with the German car manufacturer Audi. They will deliver green biogas certificates to approximately 10,000 Audis in Europe.The CEO said they are incredibly proud to enter into an agreement with one of the world’s largest car manufacturers. It is a seal of approval to the change in strategy we initiated in 2012, where we started building large-scale biogas plants. Today we run four large plants and we are about to build an additional three. We also plan to build another 10 plants in the future, says the CEO at Nature Energy, Ole Hvelplund. Nature Energy produces biogas based on waste and sludge. 

This means that the biogas is second-generation biofuel, which does not use food as raw material. As a result, there is a greater reduction in CO2 emissions – actually more than 100 percent as biogas prevents the emission of methane in agriculture while repressing fossil fuel and petrol when applied in cars. This is one of the reasons why Audi has chosen to buy its biogas from Nature Energy. More and more people are turning their attention to the benefits of using biogas for transport, and Denmark has a unique opportunity to become one of Europe’s leading biogas suppliers. There is currently more than two million gas-fuelled cars in Europe, and by replacing patrol and diesel fuel with green biogas, we can reduce our CO2-emissions in the transport sector significantly, says Ole Hvelplund.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Waste to Wealth

    Waste is any unwanted or unusable material which is discarded after its primary use. There are many issues that surrounds focusing on the wastes. It is reported in 2001 that nearly 338 million tons of waste was generated. This volume of waste exponentially increases with time and so is the problem of its dumping.
    The waste is most commonly bifurcated into organic waste and inorganic wastes. Inappropriate management of waste attract rodents, insects, flies which are responsible for many fatal diseases viz. gastrointestinal diseases, yellow fever, worms and many other dangerous fatal diseases. These wastes are subjected to incineration which causes generation of toxic and carcinogenic gases which contaminate the environment. The waste which is dumped in dumping grounds cause seepage of wastewater underground causing underground water pollution. The waste disposal/dumping causes degradation (composting) of the organic material in absence of oxygen due to the huge dumps. The anaerobic condition during the degradation process generates methane which is a Green House Gas (GHG). These GHG’s are having a far greater global warming potential(GWP). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has decided the values of GHP gases. These GWP values were changed in 2007.  The values in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007 where refined from the IPCC Second Assessment Report (SAR) values used previously and still in much of the literature.
    To reduce the impact of the wastes on the environment, waste management is very important and should be taken very seriously by us or we should be ready to face the consequences developed.
There are many different conventional ways to treat the wastes which include Composting, Incineration, Landfills & Recycling. These process are conventional and have many drawbacks of themselves, viz. the process generate GHG’s which is let in the environment proving it hazardous. Many new technologies are developed which are very effective and also it generates revenue of it. Most appreciated and well known method is Biomethanation of organic wastes. This process of biomethanation occurs in absence of oxygen. This is a biological process where the microorganisms are involved, which degrade the organic material from the waste to generate biogas. This biogas is comprised of methane 55%, carbon dioxide 35-40%, and other gas in traces. The methane in this gas is a combustible gas which can be used for many different purposes like, energy generation using generators, using it in kitchen burners instead of LPG, using it in the commercial/industrial burners for different applications.
Anaerobic digestion process –
    This process is a  group of process where microorganisms are involved to breakdown the complex organic molecules into simpler molecules in absence of oxygen. The digestion process begins with hydrolysis of the raw material such as carbohydrates  which are broken down to simpler derivatives by the microorganisms. The acidogenic bacteria converts the sugars and amino acids into Carbon dioxides, ammonia, hydrogen and organic acids. In the next step, the bacteria convert these organic acids into acetic acids and finally the Methanogenic archaea population convert the products into methane and carbon dioxides. The graphical presentation of the process is given in the Figure below.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Alzheimer's Brains Found to Have Lower Levels of Key Protein

ScienceDaily (Sep. 1, 2011) — Researchers have found that a protein variation linked by some genetic studies to Alzheimer's disease is consistently present in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. In further biochemical and cell culture investigations, they have shown that this protein, known as ubiquilin-1, performs a critical Alzheimer's-related function: it "chaperones" the formation of amyloid precursor protein, a molecule whose malformation has been directly tied to Alzheimer's pathology.

"What we saw here is that in all 20 of the Alzheimer's brains we examined the ubiquilin-1 protein level was lower, and that's completely new," said University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston assistant professor José Barral, co-author of a paper on the study now online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. "Our experiments looked at the consequences of decreased ubiquilin-1, and showed that it's necessary for the proper handling of amyloid precursor protein."
APP has been a major focus of Alzheimer's investigators for almost two decades, ever since scientists identified it as the source of so-called "protein plaques," abnormal aggregations of proteins nearly always found in the brains of Alzheimer's victims. Ubiquilin-1's significance was revealed after the UTMB researchers established ubiquilin-1's status as a chaperone protein for APP.
In the origami-like folding process by which proteins arrive at their proper shape, chaperone proteins act as, well, chaperones: they bind to their client proteins and make sure they don't misbehave.
The kind of APP misbehavior Alzheimer's researchers are most concerned about is the formation of toxic aggregations of the protein or its breakdown products, both inside and outside brain cells. Through a series of biochemical and cell-culture experiments, the UTMB team was able to show that ubiquilin-1 decreased this aggregation.
"Ubiquilin-1 prevents the APP molecule from falling into a conformation it's not supposed to be in," said UTMB associate professor Darren Boehning, co-author of the Journal of Biological Chemistry paper. "This fits with a theme we're seeing across the neurodegenerative disorders and the disorders of aging -- the idea that many of these disorders are associated with decreased quality control by chaperones."
Other authors of the Journal of Biological Chemistry paper include graduate student Emily Stieren, research scientist Amina El Ayadi, graduate student Yao Xiao, graduate student Efraín Siller, Professor Andres Oberhauser and Assistant Professor Megan Landsverk of Baylor College of Medicine. The National Institutes of Health and the Jean C. and William D. Willis Neuroscience Research Endowment supported this work.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Recent Drug Discovery and Biomarker Research Highlights

Drug discovery
1. Brain arachidonic acid cascade enzymes as therapeutic drug target for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
2. A real-time thallium flux HTS assay of human potassium channel opener
3. A simple assay for screening of protein kinase inhibitors in cell lysates
4. A label-free high-throughput mass spectrometry assay for rapidly screening epigenetic targets
5. A mutation in the human proteasome is associated with Nakajo-Nishimura syndrome
6. A spectrophotometric assay for conjugation of ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like proteins

1. Protein chip for diagnosis of sepsis
2. c-myb alternative splicing variants as potential biomarkers of leukemia
3. Biomarkers for the diagnosis of anorchia
4. Biomarkers for assessing therapeutic efficacy in patients with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome
5. IGF-1 as a biomarker of abdominal aortic aneurysms
6. Serum N-glycans as colorectal cancer biomarkers
7. Gene markers associated with NEO personality traits
8. Human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic
9. Mannose 6-phosphate as a biomarker for the diagnosis of mucolipidosis Type II
10. ME-2 antigen as a biomarker for the diagnosis of endometriosis
11. Uromodulin and Kinins as biomarkers for the diagnosis of chronic allograft dysfunction
12. Micronucleus as a biomarker to screen women who are at risk of developing cervical cancer
13. Biomarkers of neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis
14. Biomarkers to identify CKD patients in whom sodium targeting can improve blood pressure and proteinuria
15. Mitochondrial DNA copy number as a possible biomarker of pancreatic cancer
16. Biomarkers associated with higher risk of progression in lacunar strokes
17. XRCC1 SNP biomarker to predict genetic susceptibility for papillary thyroid carcinoma
18. HESRG as a specific biomarker for intracranial germinoma and embryonal carcinoma
19. Predictive biomarkers of efavirenz-based HAART-induced liver injury in HIV patients
20. Biomarker for predicting the development of cerebral vasospasm after aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

At last, malaria-free mosquitoes

In a study published on July 15 in PLoS Pathogens, researchers demonstrate how to genetically alter mosquitoes so they no longer transmit the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which causes malaria in humans.
Dr. Michael Riehle and colleagues at the University of Arizona, along with partners at UC Davis, have managed to alter the mosquitoes’ genome in such a way that the Plasmodium parasite is no longer able to cause infection when ingested in malaria-infected blood. The authors explain that their genetic modification “acts like a switch that is always set to ‘on,’ leading to the permanent activity of a signaling enzyme called Akt. Akt functions as a messenger molecule in several metabolic functions, including larval development, immune response and lifespan.”
Their original intent was to alter the lifespan or growth rate of mosquitoes (Anopheles stephensi, in this case), and this genetic construct has also been shown to reduce an insect’s lifespan by up to 20%. Most importantly, this altered genetic information is passed on to later generations – if the malaria-resistant mosquitoes can be provided with additional evolutionary advantages and released into the wild (a controversial topic), they could potentially out-perform and eventually replace the malaria-infected wild mosquitoes.
The study has received a wide range of media coverage, including: