Medicine

New Antifungal Provides Hope in the Fight Against Superbugs (sciencedaily.com) 1

dryriver shares news about the ongoing war against drug-resistant fungus. ScienceDaily reports: Microscopic yeast have been wreaking havoc in hospitals around the world -- creeping into catheters, ventilator tubes, and IV lines -- and causing deadly invasive infection. C. auris is particularly problematic because it loves hospitals, has developed resistance to a wide range of antifungals, and once it infects a patient doctors have limited treatment options.

But in a recent Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy study, researchers confirmed a new drug compound kills drug-resistant C. auris, both in the laboratory and in a mouse model that mimics human infection. The drug works through a novel mechanism. Unlike other antifungals that poke holes in yeast cell membranes or inhibit sterol synthesis, the new drug blocks how necessary proteins attach to the yeast cell wall. This means C. auris yeast can't grow properly and have a harder time forming drug-resistant communities that are a stubborn source of hospital outbreaks... The drug is first in a new class of antifungals, which could help stave off drug resistance.

Government

What a Government Shutdown Will Mean For NASA and SpaceX (theverge.com) 150

Ars Technica reports of how the government shutdown affects federal agencies like NASA, as well as commercial companies like SpaceX: So far, NASA has been keeping quiet about this particular shutdown and has been directing all questions to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which did not respond to a request for comment. But NASA's acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, told employees in an email obtained by The Verge to be on alert for directions over the next couple of days. "If there is a lapse in funding for the federal government Friday night, report to work the same way you normally would until further notice, and you will receive guidance on how best to closeout your activities on Monday," he wrote in the email. The most recent guidance from NASA, released in 2017, indicates that all nonessential employees should stay home during a shutdown, while a small contingent of staff continue to work on "excepted" projects. The heads of each NASA center decide which employees need to stay, but they're typically the people who operate important or hazardous programs, including employees working on upcoming launches or those who operate satellites and the International Space Station.

NASA's next big mission is the launch of its exoplanet-hunting satellite, TESS, which is going up on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida in March. So it shouldn't be affected by a shutdown (unless it takes a while to find a resolution). However, it's possible that preparations on another big spacecraft, the James Webb Space Telescope, may come to a halt, according to Nature. The space telescope is currently at NASA's Johnson Space Center for testing, but NASA's guidelines say that only spacecraft preparations that are "necessary to prevent harm to life or property" should continue during a shutdown. More immediately, an Atlas V rocket from the United Launch Alliance is launching a missile-detecting satellite tonight out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, while SpaceX is slated to launch a communications satellite on January 30th. The timing of both launches may mean they avoid the shutdown. But if they did occur during the shutdown, it's unclear if they would suffer delays.

Medicine

A Cheap and Easy Blood Test Could Catch Cancer Early (technologyreview.com) 54

A simple-to-take test that tells if you have a tumor lurking, and even where it is in your body, is a lot closer to reality -- and may cost only $500. From a report: The new test, developed at Johns Hopkins University, looks for signs of eight common types of cancer. It requires only a blood sample and may prove inexpensive enough for doctors to give during a routine physical. "The idea is this test would make its way into the public and we could set up screening centers," says Nickolas Papadopoulos, one of the Johns Hopkins researchers behind the test. "That's why it has to be cheap and noninvasive." Although the test isn't commercially available yet, it will be used to screen 50,000 retirement-age women with no history of cancer as part of a $50 million, five-year study with the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, a spokesperson with the insurer said. The test, detailed today in the journal Science, could be a major advance for "liquid biopsy" technology, which aims to detect cancer in the blood before a person feels sick or notices a lump. That's useful because early-stage cancer that hasn't spread can often be cured.
Technology

Why Airports Rename Runways When the Magnetic Poles Move (wired.com) 179

An anonymous reader shares a report: For decades, pilots heading into or out of Wichita Eisenhower National Airport in southeast Kansas have had three runways to choose from: 1L/19R, 1R/19L, and 14/32. Now, at the orders of the FAA, the airport will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to give itself a makeover. Workers will repaint those huge numbers at the ends of each runway and replace copious signage. Pilots and air traffic controllers will study new reference manuals and approach plates, all updated to reflect an airport whose three runways have been renamed. World, meet 2L/20R, 2R/20L, and 15/33 -- which happen to be the same runways that have been welcoming planes since 1954.

This is not a "What's in a name?" situation. The runways may be the same sweet-smelling stretches of tarmac they've always been, but the world around them has changed. Well, the magnetic fields around the world have changed. The planet's magnetic poles -- the points that compasses recognize as north and south -- are always wandering about. That's a problem, because most runways are named for their magnetic headings. Take Wichita's 14/32. First off, because planes can land or take off from either direction, you can think of it as two runways: 14 and 32. (Pro tip: Pilots say "one-four" and "three-two," not 14 and 32.) If you're looking at a compass, one end is about 140 degrees off of north, counting clockwise. For simplicity's sake, the headings are rounded to the nearest five, and dropped to two digits. So if you're looking down at Wichita Eisenhower, runway 14/32 is the one running from the northwest to the southeast.

Printer

You Could Soon Be Manufacturing Your Own Drugs -- Thanks To 3D Printing (sciencemag.org) 96

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Forget those long lines at the pharmacy: Someday soon, you might be making your own medicines at home. That's because researchers have tailored a 3D printer to synthesize pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from simple, widely available starting compounds fed into a series of water bottle -- size reactors. The work, they say, could digitize chemistry, allowing users to synthesize almost any compound anywhere in the world.

In today's issue of Science, Leroy Cronin, a chemist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues report printing a series of interconnected reaction vessels that carry out four different chemical reactions involving 12 separate steps, from filtering to evaporating different solutions. By adding different reagents and solvents at the right times and in a precise order, they were able to convert simple, widely available starting compounds into a muscle relaxant called baclofen. And by designing reactionware to carry out different chemical reactions with different reagents, they produced other medicines, including an anticonvulsant and a drug to fight ulcers and acid reflux. So why not just buy a reactionware kit and scrap the printing? "This approach will allow the on-demand production of chemicals and drugs that are in short supply, hard to make at big facilities, and allow customization to tailor them to the application," Cronin says.

Power

US Tests Nuclear Power System To Sustain Astronauts On Mars (reuters.com) 180

Initial tests in Nevada on a compact nuclear power system designed to sustain a long-duration NASA human mission on the inhospitable surface on Mars have been successful and a full-power run is scheduled for March, officials said on Thursday. Reuters reports: National Aeronautics and Space Administration and U.S. Department of Energy officials, at a Las Vegas news conference, detailed the development of the nuclear fission system under NASA's Kilopower project. Months-long testing began in November at the energy department's Nevada National Security Site, with an eye toward providing energy for future astronaut and robotic missions in space and on the surface of Mars, the moon or other solar system destinations. A key hurdle for any long-term colony on the surface of a planet or moon, as opposed to NASA's six short lunar surface visits from 1969 to 1972, is possessing a power source strong enough to sustain a base but small and light enough to allow for transport through space. NASA's prototype power system uses a uranium-235 reactor core roughly the size of a paper towel roll. The technology could power habitats and life-support systems, enable astronauts to mine resources, recharge rovers and run processing equipment to transform resources such as ice on the planet into oxygen, water and fuel. It could also potentially augment electrically powered spacecraft propulsion systems on missions to the outer planets.
Communications

Why People Dislike Really Smart Leaders (scientificamerican.com) 627

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Intelligence makes for better leaders -- from undergraduates to executives to presidents -- according to multiple studies. It certainly makes sense that handling a market shift or legislative logjam requires cognitive oomph. But new research on leadership suggests that, at a certain point, having a higher IQ stops helping and starts hurting. The researchers looked at 379 male and female business leaders in 30 countries, across fields that included banking, retail and technology. The managers took IQ tests (an imperfect but robust predictor of performance in many areas), and each was rated on leadership style and effectiveness by an average of eight co-workers. IQ positively correlated with ratings of leader effectiveness, strategy formation, vision and several other characteristics -- up to a point. The ratings peaked at an IQ of around 120, which is higher than roughly 80 percent of office workers. Beyond that, the ratings declined. The researchers suggest the "ideal" IQ could be higher or lower in various fields, depending on whether technical versus social skills are more valued in a given work culture. The study's lead author, John Antonakis, a psychologist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, suggests leaders should use their intelligence to generate creative metaphors that will persuade and inspire others -- the way former U.S. President Barack Obama did. "I think the only way a smart person can signal their intelligence appropriately and still connect with the people," Antonakis says, "is to speak in charismatic ways."
Communications

Ask Slashdot: How Would You Explain Einstein's Theories To a Nine-Year-Old? 285

SiggyRadiation writes: A few days ago, my 9-year-old son asked me why Albert Einstein was so famous. I decided not just to start with the famous formula E=mc^2, because that just seemed to be the easy way out. So I tried to explain what mass and energy are. Then I asked him to try to explain gravity to me. The earth pulls at you because it has a lot of mass. But how can the earth influence your body, pull your feet to the ground, without actually touching you? Why is it that one thing (the earth) can influence something else (you) without actually being connected? Isn't that weird? Einstein figured out how energy, mass and gravity work and are related to each other. This is where our conversation ended.

Afterwards I thought: this might be a nice question to ask on Slashdot; how would I continue this discussion to explain it to him further? Of course, with the goal of further feeding his interest in physics.
Science

Global Warming Predictions May Now Be a Lot Less Uncertain (wired.com) 330

An anonymous reader shares a report: Humanity must not pass a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global temperature from pre-industrial levels, so says the Paris climate agreement. Cross that line and the global effects of climate change start looking less like a grave situation and more like a catastrophe. The frustrating bit about studying climate change is the inherent uncertainty of it all. Predicting where it's going is a matter of mashing up thousands of variables in massive, confounding systems. But today in the journal Nature, researchers claim they've reduced the uncertainty in a key metric of climate change by 60 percent, narrowing a range of potential warming from 3C to 1.2C. And that could have implications for how the international community arrives at climate goals like it did in Paris. The metric is called equilibrium climate sensitivity, but don't let the name scare you.
NASA

2017 Among Warmest Years On Record (npr.org) 185

2017 was among the warmest years on record, according to new data released by NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. From a report: The planet's global surface temperature last year was second warmest since 1880, NASA says. NOAA calls it the third warmest year on record, due to slight variation in the ways that they analyze temperatures. Both put 2017 behind 2016's record temperatures. And "both analyses show that the five warmest years on record have all taken place since 2010," NASA said in a press release. The trend is seen most dramatically in the Arctic, NASA says, as sea ice continues to melt.
Science

No More Pancake Syrup? Climate Change Could Bring an End To Sugar Maples (sciencemag.org) 353

An anonymous reader shares a research report: Savor that sticky, slightly nutty sweetness drenching your Sunday morning pancakes now. The trees that make maple syrup will struggle to survive climate change, a new study reveals. Researchers had thought that pollution from cars, factories, and agriculture might buffer sugar maples against an increasingly warm and dry climate by supplying soils with fertilizing nitrogen. But the new analysis, which examined 20 years of tree and soil data in four Michigan locations, finds that extra boost of nitrogen won't be enough. Instead, the researchers report today in Ecology, a lack of water will stunt the trees' growth.
United States

US Doctors Plan To Treat Cancer Patients Using CRISPR (technologyreview.com) 51

An anonymous reader shares a report: The first human test in the U.S. involving the gene-editing tool CRISPR could begin at any time and will employ the DNA cutting technique in a bid to battle deadly cancers. Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania say they will use CRISPR to modify human immune cells so that they become expert cancer killers, according to plans posted this week to a directory of ongoing clinical trials. The study will enroll up to 18 patients fighting three different types of cancer -- multiple myeloma, sarcoma, and melanoma -- in what could become the first medical use of CRISPR outside China, where similar studies have been under way. An advisory group to the National Institutes of Health initially gave a green light to the Penn researchers in June 2016, but until now it was not known whether the trial would proceed.
Space

Meteor Lights Up Southern Michigan (arstechnica.com) 38

New submitter Foundryman writes: Amidst fake missile reports in Hawaii and Japan, Michigan gets hit by something real. From a report via Ars Technica: "Early last night local time, a meteor rocketed through the skies of southern Michigan, giving local residents a dramatic (if brief) light show. It also generated an imperceptible thump, as the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that there was a coincident magnitude 2.0 earthquake. The American Meteor Society has collected more than 350 eyewitness accounts, which ranged from western Pennsylvania out to Illinois and Wisconsin. They were heavily concentrated over southern Michigan, notably around the Detroit area. A number of people have also posted videos of the fireball online. The American Meteor Society estimates that the rock was relatively slow-moving at a sedate 45,000km an hour. Combined with its production of a large fireball, the researchers conclude it was probably a big rock. NASA's meteorwatch Facebook page largely agrees and suggests that this probably means that pieces of the rock made it to Earth. If you were on the flight path, you might want to check your yard.
Businesses

Turning Soybeans Into Diesel Fuel Is Costing Us Billions (npr.org) 261

This year, trucks and other heavy-duty motors in America will burn some 3 billion gallons of diesel fuel that was made from soybean oil. They're doing it, though, not because it's cheaper or better, but because they're required to, by law. From a report: The law is the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. For some, especially Midwestern farmers, it's the key to creating clean energy from American soil and sun. For others -- like many economists -- it's a wasteful misuse of resources. And the most wasteful part of the RFS, according to some, is biodiesel. It's different from ethanol, a fuel that's made from corn and mixed into gasoline, also as required by the RFS. In fact, gasoline companies probably would use ethanol even if there were no law requiring it, because ethanol is a useful fuel additive -- at least up to a point. That's not true of biodiesel. "This is an easy one, economically. Biodiesel is very expensive, relative to petroleum diesel," says Scott Irwin, an economist at the University of Illinois, who follows biofuel markets closely. He calculates that the extra cost for biodiesel comes to about $1.80 per gallon right now, meaning that the biofuel law is costing Americans about $5.4 billion a year.
Businesses

'No One Wants Your Used Clothes Anymore' (bloomberg.com) 326

An anonymous reader shares a report: For decades, the donation bin has offered consumers in rich countries a guilt-free way to unload their old clothing. In a virtuous and profitable cycle, a global network of traders would collect these garments, grade them, and transport them around the world to be recycled, worn again, or turned into rags and stuffing. Now that cycle is breaking down. Fashion trends are accelerating, new clothes are becoming as cheap as used ones, and poor countries are turning their backs on the secondhand trade. Without significant changes in the way that clothes are made and marketed, this could add up to an environmental disaster in the making. [...] The tide of secondhand clothes keeps growing even as the markets to reuse them are disappearing. From an environmental standpoint, that's a big problem. Already, the textile industry accounts for more greenhouse-gas emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined; as recycling markets break down, its contribution could soar. The good news is that nobody has a bigger incentive to address this problem than the industry itself.
Earth

Salmonella Probably Killed the Aztecs (theguardian.com) 129

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In 1545 disaster struck Mexico's Aztec nation when people started coming down with high fevers, headaches and bleeding from the eyes, mouth and nose. Death generally followed in three or four days. Within five years as many as 15 million people -- an estimated 80% of the population -- were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named "cocoliztli." The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years. On Monday scientists swept aside smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza as likely suspects, identifying a typhoid-like "enteric fever" for which they found DNA evidence on the teeth of long-dead victims.

Scientists now say they have probably unmasked the culprit. Analysing DNA extracted from 29 skeletons buried in a cocoliztli cemetery, they found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, of the Paratyphi C variety. It is known to cause enteric fever, of which typhoid is an example. The Mexican subtype rarely causes human infection today. Many salmonella strains spread via infected food or water, and may have travelled to Mexico with domesticated animals brought by the Spanish, the research team said.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
Medicine

New Study Claims That the 'Black Death' Was Spread By Humans, Not Rats (bbc.com) 97

dryriver shares a report from BBC: Rats were not to blame for the spread of plague during the Black Death, according to a study. The rodents and their fleas were thought to have spread a series of outbreaks in 14th-19th Century Europe. But a team from the universities of Oslo and Ferrara now says the first, the Black Death, can be "largely ascribed to human fleas and body lice." The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, uses records of its pattern and scale. The Black Death claimed an estimated 25 million lives, more than a third of Europe's population, between 1347 and 1351. "We have good mortality data from outbreaks in nine cities in Europe," Prof Nils Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, told BBC News. "So we could construct models of the disease dynamics [there]." He and his colleagues then simulated disease outbreaks in each of these cities, creating three models where the disease was spread by: rats, airborne transmission, and fleas and lice that live on humans and their clothes. In seven out of the nine cities studied, the "human parasite model" was a much better match for the pattern of the outbreak. It mirrored how quickly it spread and how many people it affected. "The conclusion was very clear," said Prof Stenseth. "The lice model fits best. It would be unlikely to spread as fast as it did if it was transmitted by rats. It would have to go through this extra loop of the rats, rather than being spread from person to person." Plague is still endemic in some countries of Asia, Africa and the Americas, where it persists in "reservoirs" of infected rodents. According to the World Health Organization, from 2010 to 2015 there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. And, in 2001, a study that decoded the plague genome used a bacterium that had come from a vet in the U.S. who had died in 1992 after a plague-infested cat sneezed on him as he had been trying to rescue it from underneath a house.
China

China Builds 'World's Biggest Air Purifier' That Actually Works (scmp.com) 138

The South China Morning Post shares an update on the status of an experimental tower in northern China, dubbed the world's biggest air purifier by its operators. According to the scientist leading the project, the tower -- which stands over 328 feet (100 meters) tall -- has brought a noticeable improvement in air quality. From the report: The head of the research, Cao Junji, said improvements in air quality had been observed over an area of 10 square kilometers (3.86 square miles) in the city over the past few months and the tower has managed to produce more than 10 million cubic meters (353 million cubic feet) of clean air a day since its launch. Cao added that on severely polluted days the tower was able to reduce smog close to moderate levels. The system works through greenhouses covering about half the size of a soccer field around the base of the tower. Polluted air is sucked into the glasshouses and heated up by solar energy. The hot air then rises through the tower and passes through multiple layers of cleaning filters. The average reduction in PM2.5 -- the fine particles in smog deemed most harmful to health -- fell 15 per cent during heavy pollution. Cao said the results were preliminary because the experiment is still ongoing. The team plans to release more detailed data in March with a full scientific assessment of the facility's overall performance.
Music

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 477

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope Has Emerged From the Freezer (arstechnica.com) 72

The James Webb Space Telescope has emerged from a large vacuum chamber that was home to temperatures of just 20 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. Scientists have reviewed the data and given the instrument a clean bill of health. "We now have verified that NASA and its partners have an outstanding telescope and set of science instruments," said Bill Ochs, the Webb telescope project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We are marching toward launch." Ars Technica reports: The $10 billion telescope underwent tests inside Chamber A at Johnson Space Center, which was built in 1965 to conduct thermal-vacuum testing on the Apollo command and service modules. Beginning in mid-July, after the telescope was cooled down to a temperature range of 20 to 40 Kelvin, engineers tested the alignment of Webb's 18 primary mirror segments to ensure they would act as a single, 6.5-meter telescope. (They did). Later, they assessed the fine guidance system of the telescope by simulating the light of a distant star. The Webb telescope was able to detect the light, and all of the optical systems were able to process it. Then, the telescope was able to track the "star" and its movement, giving scientists confidence that the Webb instrument will work once in space. Webb still has a ways to go before it launches. Now that project scientists know that the optic portion of the instrument can withstand the vacuum of space, and the low temperatures at the Earth-Sun L2 point it will orbit in deep space, they must perform additional testing before a probable launch next year.

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