NASA’s ICON mission launches to the ionosphere at 3:05 AM ET

NASA’s ICON mission launches to the ionosphere at 3:05 AM ET


NASA

Need something else to watch after all the results come in? Tonight NASA’s launching a mission to explore Earth’s ionosphere, but this isn’t the average rocket launch. The Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) will take off on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket — in use since the 90s, and scheduled for use with the giant Stratolaunch once that’s ready to fly — that’s being dropped from a specially designed plane at about 40,000 feet over the open ocean.

Dubbed Stargazer L-1011, the carrier aircraft will take off from Cape Canaveral ahead of a 90-minute launch window that opens at 3 AM ET. As Space.com notes, the launch has been delayed over concerns about the rocket, but all the testing is complete and now it’s ready to fly.

Pegasus ICON inside Bldg 1555 VAFB

ICON is designed to track “airglow,” light that shines from the ionosphere in a process that’s similar to an aurora, except it’s constant around the globe and much fainter. According to NASA, until now we’ve learned very little about the gases, solar radiation and magnetic fields in the ionosphere because it’s too high for balloons and too low for satellites. Understanding more about it could help us deal with interference that impacts tech and communications.

ICON will carry four instruments on its two-year mission flying 357 miles above the Earth: MIGHTI to measure wind and temperature, EUV to monitor the density of gases, IVM to track the motion of gases and FUV to “determine daytime thermospheric composition and altitude profiles of the nighttime ion density.”

The launch will be covered live on NASA TV starting at 2:45 AM ET, which you can watch right here.

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Judge: Qualcomm must license modem tech to rivals like Intel

Judge: Qualcomm must license modem tech to rivals like Intel


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Qualcomm isn’t having much luck defending itself against the FTC’s antitrust lawsuit. US federal Judge Lucy Koh has ruled that Qualcomm must license some of the patents in its cellular modems to rival chip manufacturers. Qualcomm and the FTC had previously asked Koh to delay the ruling for up to 30 days while the two sides negotiated a possible settlement, but the judge denied that motion.

We’ve asked Qualcomm for comment.

There’s a good chance Qualcomm isn’t happy about the move, though. The wireless chip firm is embroiled in a longstanding patent royalty dispute with Apple, and has even accused the iPhone maker of feeding trade secrets to Intel. Now, it might not have much choice but to supply some of those secrets to the competition, possibly including Intel and Samsung. And when Qualcomm has lost and settled some antitrust cases in other parts of the world, an FTC settlement might not provide much relief.

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Drug pollution concentrates in stream bugs, passes to predators in water and on land: Animals that eat insects in or near streams at risk of being dosed with pharmaceuticals

Drug pollution concentrates in stream bugs, passes to predators in water and on land: Animals that eat insects in or near streams at risk of being dosed with pharmaceuticals

Sixty-nine pharmaceutical compounds have been detected in stream insects, some at concentrations that may threaten animals that feed on them, such as trout and platypus. When these insects emerge as flying adults, they can pass drugs to spiders, birds, bats, and other streamside foragers. These findings by an international team of researchers were published today in Nature Communications.

Pharmaceutical pollution is present in surface waters globally. Drugs enter the environment because most wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to remove them from sewage. Septic tanks, aging pipes, and sewer overflows contribute to the problem.

Emma Rosi, an aquatic ecologist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a coauthor on the paper, explains, “Stream life is swimming in a mixture of pharmaceuticals. Our study is the first to show that this chronic drug pollution can concentrate in aquatic insects and move up food webs, in some cases exposing top predators to therapeutically-relevant doses.”

Surveying pharmaceuticals in streams

The team sampled six streams in Melbourne, Australia for 98 pharmaceutical compounds — the most exhaustive screening to date. Pharmaceuticals measured included common drugs like antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, and NSAIDs. Study sites were selected along a gradient of wastewater contamination that included a site downstream of a wastewater treatment plant and a site in a national park.

Aquatic insects and riparian spiders were collected. Erinn Richmond, a freshwater ecologist at Monash University in Australia and lead author on the study, explains, “We focused on riparian spiders because they build their webs over streams and feed on adult aquatic insects as they emerge from the water.”

Bugs on drugs

Tissue analyses detected up to 69 different pharmaceutical compounds in aquatic insects and up to 66 compounds in riparian spiders. Drug concentrations were the highest in invertebrates collected downstream of wastewater treatment facilities or in heavily populated areas with potential septic tank leakage. On average, pharmaceutical concentrations at these sites were 10 to 100 times higher than less contaminated sites.

Coauthor Jerker Fick, a chemist at Umeå University in Sweden, analyzed the insect and spider samples. “Insect tissues had drug concentrations that were orders of magnitude higher than concentrations measured in surface waters. We also found a diverse suite of drugs in spiders, indicating that drugs are passed from the water to prey to predator, thereby exposing other animals in the food web to drugs.”

“Pharmaceuticals were present in every insect and spider we tested — including those collected in Dandenong Ranges National Park,” Richmond notes. “Even this seemingly pristine site was contaminated, likely because people live in the park’s drainage area and visit the park.”

Top predators are at risk

In the streams studied, platypus and brown trout also feed on aquatic insects. By pairing concentrations of pharmaceuticals found in stream insects with known dietary needs of platypus and trout, the team was able to estimate their drug exposure.

Rosi explains, “A platypus living in a creek receiving treated wastewater effluent could receive the equivalent of half of a recommended human dose of antidepressants every day — just by eating its normal diet of stream insects. This intake is likely to have biological effects.”

Next steps

The caddisfly, a globally common aquatic insect, was among those tested in this study. Richmond says, “Similar insects are found in freshwaters all over the world. This isn’t a problem specific to Australia; it’s representative of what’s likely happening wherever people take drugs. And it’s likely an underestimate. We only tested for 98 pharmaceutical compounds — there are thousands in circulation.”

Rosi concludes, “Pharmaceutical use is increasing worldwide. It’s clear that the drugs we take are entering freshwaters and being passed up the food web. We don’t know the ecological consequences of exposure to this pollution. What does it mean to be a platypus or trout with more than 60 drugs in your tissues? Are there synergistic effects? More research is needed on the extent of food web contamination and the effects of these compounds on fish and wildlife.”

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Researchers rank cryptocurrency exchanges by how secure they are

Researchers rank cryptocurrency exchanges by how secure they are

Prominent cyber-security firm Group-IB has graded the security of online cryptocurrency exchanges, as a means of assessing insurance risk. It found long-standing platform Kraken to be the most secure, with OKEx, Huobi Pro, and CoinCheck among the riskiest.

Alongside IT platform CryptoIns, Group-IB claims to have developed the world’s first assessment system for determining the insurance premiums required to adequately cover cryptocurrency kept on major exchanges.

Losses as a result of cyber-attacks on exchange software, theft, fraud, and illegal actions of crypto-exchange personnel are all apparently covered by the new cryptocurrency insurance policy.

Users across more than a dozen exchanges can now request their hodlings be financially protected by CryptoIns.

The framework weighs criteria like the level of technical security, the reliability of key storage, passwords, and personal data of customers provided by each exchange.

It also considers the quality of the individual risk management systems of each, and how rigid the know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering (AML) procedures.

“In the first place, we assess how crypto exchanges deal with crypto and fiat assets: what are the exchanges assets keys’ storage and management procedures,” a Group-IB spokesperson told Hard Fork. “In some cases, with founders’ consent, the assessment includes penetration testing using social engineering methods aimed at the network compromise through the most vulnerable link at any organization – humans.”

The CryptoIns platform was developed by Swiss broker ASPIS SA, with Selecta Insurance & Reinsurance Company handling all insurance coverage.

Cryptocurrency on Kraken is the cheapest to insure

The insurance framework sorts cryptocurrency exchanges into four groups, in order of risk. Group-IB deemed exchanges in the first group to be the most secure, while considering the fourth group to be completely uninsurable.

The base insurance rate is 2.5 percent per quarter, with a discount applied depending on the group (with a maximum of 50 percent discount).

The only cryptocurrency exchange Group-IB deemed worthy of the most secure category is the long-serving Kraken. “According to our estimates, Kraken is the most secure exchange, with 1.25 percent insurance rate,” Group-IB told Hard Fork.

This means that for me to insure 1 BTC worth of cryptocurrency stored on Kraken, it would cost me 0.0125 BTC for 90-days worth of coverage.

The second group includes Bittrex and Coinbase Pro, with cryptocurrency kept on these exchanges demanding a 1.5 percent insurance premium for protection.

Digital assets on cryptocurrency exchanges Binance, Bitfinex, Bithumb, Bitmex, Localbitcoins, MyEtherWallet, and Poloniex were all assigned premiums of 1.9 percent, making this the most commonly assigned risk grading.

The least secure cryptocurrency exchange Group-IB analyzed was Yobit, which was removed from the list altogether just before going public with its insurance framework. Other excluded exchanges include Zaif, Bitstamp, TopBTC, and Bit-Z, the Group-IB spokesperson told Hard Fork.

Unfortunately, when pressed, neither Group-IB or CryptoIns were prepared to reveal the exact considerations made when labelling exchanges too risky to insure, stating that such information is confidential. 

The maximum amount of cryptocurrency users are able to be insure is the equivalent of 15 BTC ($96,000, at print time), with premiums payable in up to 100 different coins.

CryptoIns says it will issue insurance payouts in Bitcoin. Full-year coverage is also available, with the base premium costs increasing proportionally with the period of the coverage.

A representative also confirmed that those interested in covering their cryptocurrency will need to submit to KYC/AML procedures.

Published November 6, 2018 — 17:10 UTC

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FCC will review how wireless carriers respond to natural disasters

FCC will review how wireless carriers respond to natural disasters


Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

With the recovery from Hurricanes Florence and Michael still underway, the FCC wants to know how well wireless networks will cope with the next crisis. The regulator is launching a review of the Wireless Resiliency Cooperative Framework, a voluntary pledge on the part of carriers to work together in maintaining service during natural disasters, raising public awareness and speeding up the recovery process. To that end, it’s sending letters to carriers in the framework (including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Engadget parent Verizon) to summarize how they’ve implemented the alliance in the past two years, explain how they follow “best practices” and outline moments when agreements were changed or faced interference.

The FCC wants to take a second look at the “last Administration’s” (read: Obama’s) approach to be sure carriers are “meeting communities’ needs” in the wake of disasters, according to Chairman Ajit Pai. In other words, it’s using this as an opportunity to see if the framework is actually working as intended.

Whether or not it’s working isn’t clear. Providers are often quick to boast about their network performance and recovery in the aftermath of disasters, but they seldom talk about their disaster-oriented roaming agreements or joint aid campaigns. And of course, the carriers alone won’t necessarily tell the whole story — the FCC will likely want to investigate what companies aren’t saying to determine if there’s room for improvement.

Verizon owns Engadget’s parent company, Oath (formerly AOL). Rest assured, Verizon has no control over our coverage. Engadget remains editorially independent.

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2019 BMW Z4 first drive review: Reinvigorating the roadster

2019 BMW Z4 first drive review: Reinvigorating the roadster

If you read editor-in-chief Tim Stevens’ first drive of the 2020 Toyota Supra prototype and thought, well golly, that sure sounds promising, let me introduce you to the progenitor of that goodness. After all, it’s no secret the new BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra were codeveloped. But when it comes to the most important parts — the engine, chassis, electronics and lots of other oily bits — it was the Germans who led the charge.

So yes, the new Supra looks to be a hell of a car, and one we’re eager to drive in production spec next year. But it’s all because the 2019 Z4, which goes on sale next March, is one of BMW’s best-executed sports cars yet.

Bigger and bulgier

Let me get this out of the way right now: If there’s one thing I’m not totally sold on, it’s the Z4’s design. Your eyes may or may not see things differently than mine, but as far as I’m concerned, even in the top-shelf M40i spec pictured here, the Z4 just looks, well, fat.

Compared to its predecessor, the new Z4 is 3.3 inches longer, 2.9 inches wider and half an inch taller. Yet it rides on a wheelbase that’s an inch shorter in length, resulting in big overhangs, front and rear. The body sides are chunky. The rear end is kind of bulbous. And those angular vents on the front quarter panels? They’re fake.

Happily, despite the increased dimensions, overall weight isn’t any the worse for wear. Thanks to liberal use of lightweight materials, the base, four-cylinder Z4 sDrive30i tips the scales at 3,287 pounds. Sure, that’s 277 pounds heavier than a Porsche 718 Boxster, but it’s 20 pounds less than the outgoing Z4.

The Z4 is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor, but rides on a wheelbase an inch shorter.


BMW

Sporty with sophistication

Besides, you don’t have to look at the Z4 when you’re driving it, and that’s where this roadster really seals the deal. The Z4 is a perfect match for the ribbons of pavement that line the Portuguese coast, with a sporting character that’s better than anything I’ve felt in many of BMW’s recent products (save the new 8 Series, which is also a proper return to dynamic form).

We’ll get the Z4 sDrive30i first, powered by BMW’s latest 2.0-liter turbocharged I4. With 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, the sDrive30i offers more oomph than the sDrive28i it replaces. But without any sDrive30i examples on hand at BMW’s media event in Portugal, that’s all I can say about that model right now.

Instead, let’s talk about the super sweet Z4 M40i, the version with which the Supra will share its engine. The beating heart in question is a turbocharged, 3.0-liter I6, good for 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. BMW says the M40i will sprint to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, though that’s almost half a second slower than a 718 Boxster S. That’s with the eight-speed automatic left to its own devices, firing off perfectly timed shifts that are as quick as they are smooth. Sorry to say, but don’t hold your breath for a manual transmission. As it is with the Supra, a stick-shift option will not be available on any US-spec Z4.

The key phrase in there is “left to its own devices.” When using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, gears don’t change with quite the same urgency. Otherwise, the transmission behaves as it ought to, sending power to the rear wheels with expediency, a brap-fart from the exhaust with every upshift, a pop or crackle or two as the engine rev-matches and downshifts as I brake for a hairpin turn.

Look for this 3.0-liter turbocharged I6 under the hood of the Supra — without the BMW badge, of course.


BMW

The steering, meanwhile, is full-stop excellent. Great on-center feel and high levels of through-the-wheel feedback highlight the helm-in-hand experience, with quick turn-in response allowing the Z4 to dart around corners with ease. If you’re one of the many Bimmerphiles who believe BMW has lost its way when it comes to steering tuning, you’ll find salvation in the Z4.

Chassis tuning is definitely on the softer side of what I initially expected, even in the sportiest Sport+ setting. The Z4 exhibits noticeable pitch and roll under braking and through corners — nothing terrible, mind you, just takes a bit of getting used to. Thankfully, the staggered Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber — P255/35R19 up front and P275/35R19 out back — offer plentiful grip, so once you get the hang of the increased body motions, you’ll quickly train your brain to push harder and trust the tires.

That’s especially noticeable on Portugal’s Circuito do Estoril race track. Acceleration is hearty and unrelenting — perfect for that hilariously long front straightaway — but the Z4’s body motions aren’t flattering while negotiating Estoril’s 2.6 miles of challenging corners. But it all makes sense, given Tim’s similar track experience with the Supra. Here, too, the Z4’s brakes exhibit high levels of fade, with noticeably reduced pedal feel after only a few sessions of journalist test laps. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note that the Z4s tested on track were still-camouflaged prototypes, and not the fully baked examples driven on the gorgeous coastal road. Still, this track day was the same one where I tested BMW’s new M850i Coupe. And given the choice to hit Estoril in one of those cars again, I’d pick the 8 Series, without hesitation.

Instead, it’s out on those winding roads south of Lisbon, with warm sun and Atlantic breeze against my skin, where the Z4 roadster is truly in its element. This car can gobble up miles of great roads with ease, and with a quickness, too. The Adaptive M suspension softens impacts from less-than-pristine Portuguese roads, and the 50:50 weight distribution keeps the Z4 perfectly balanced.

Premium materials and the latest iDrive 7 tech highlight the Z4’s excellent interior.


BMW

Comfy, cozy, techy

I cannot stress enough that this is a sort of grand touring experience best enjoyed with the top down, though should inclement weather or passenger fussiness demand the soft top be raised, rest assured that the electronic operation takes just 10 seconds, and can happen while the car is driving at speeds up to 30 mph.

The cabin’s a wonderful place in which to spend time, though I’ll admit that with the black top raised, it feels a little claustrophobic. (All the more reason to drive top-down, duh.) You sit low in the Z4, with leather-trimmed seats that are plenty comfortable and supportive for a long day of spirited driving. The steering wheel in front of you is appropriately chunky, but thankfully, small in overall diameter. All materials found throughout the interior are some of BMW’s best, with simple and elegant climate controls arranged horizontally across the center stack.

Move down to the center console and you’ll find the small, electronic gear selector, with drive mode buttons to the left and infotainment controls to the right. A large dial manages BMW’s latest iDrive 7 infotainment system, perched in a 10.25-inch display atop the dashboard. As seen in the new 8 Series and X5, iDrive 7 can be controlled either by this rotary knob, or by simply touching the screen. You can wave and point and twirl your fingers for various gesture controls, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these are just plain silly.

The more I use iDrive 7, the more I like its reconfigurability and the speed with which it responds to commands. The menu structure is pretty familiar to me, a frequent user of iDrive 6, and with bright colors and crisp text, BMW’s latest infotainment suite feels as top-notch as any in the class. So, too, does the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which while not as pretty as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, offers a similarly high level of driver personalization.

The Z4 is most at home on sun-drenched, winding roads. Portugal, anyone?


BMW

Toyota, by BMW

I don’t fully believe that BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra shoppers run in the same circles, so I’m not super worried about cross-cannibalization between these jointly developed sports cars. Pricing isn’t yet available as of this writing, but it’s safe to assume the BMW will come with a higher level of standard content, and a generally more premium aura, likely resulting in a costlier MSRP.

To that end, the BMW Z4 will do battle with the Porsche 718 Boxster and Boxster S, as well as the Audi TT and TTS and Mercedes-Benz SLC300 and AMG SLC43. I can even see the the base sDrive30i cross-shopped with the much less expensive Mazda MX-5 Miata, assuming you’re just looking for open-top value for money.

But for folks who choose life with the Z4, they’ll be rewarded with a car that’s as effortlessly fast as it is enjoyable to drive, another great example that BMW has once again found its Ultimate Driving Machine mojo. As an open-top grand tourer, it’s a car that’ll endlessly impress, and offers enough tech and luxury to satisfy buyers of the well-heeled ilk.

It’s no wonder the Supra shows such promise.


Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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EU approves Disney’s purchase of Fox assets, with conditions

EU approves Disney’s purchase of Fox assets, with conditions


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Disney’s acquisition of Fox studios and TV channels is one step closer to becoming a practical reality. The European Commission has approved the mega-deal under the condition that Disney has to divest its stake in “factual channels” it controls in the European Economic Area, including History, Crime & Investigation and Lifetime. The buyout would have eliminated competition between two rivals in several countries, the Commission said.

Disney has already committed to offloading the channels, the Commission said.

The clearance follows months after shareholder approval in July and suggests it may be more a question of when the deal closes than whether it closes in the first place. If it does, it promises to shake up the media landscape in a big way by giving Disney access to huge properties (such as Avatar and X-Men) it can wield both on conventional screens and its upcoming streaming service.

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Moths survive bat predation through acoustic camouflage fur

Moths survive bat predation through acoustic camouflage fur

Moths are a mainstay food source for bats, which use echolocation (biological sonar) to hunt their prey. Scientists such as Thomas Neil, from the University of Bristol in the U.K., are studying how moths have evolved passive defenses over millions of years to resist their primary predators.

While some moths have evolved ears that detect the ultrasonic calls of bats, many types of moths remain deaf. In those moths, Neil has found that the insects developed types of “stealth coating” that serve as acoustic camouflage to evade hungry bats.

Neil will describe his work during the Acoustical Society of America’s 176th Meeting, held in conjunction with the Canadian Acoustical Association’s 2018 Acoustics Week, Nov. 5-9 at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, Canada.

In his presentation, Neil will focus on how fur on a moth’s thorax and wing joints provide acoustic stealth by reducing the echoes of these body parts from bat calls.

“Thoracic fur provides substantial acoustic stealth at all ecologically relevant ultrasonic frequencies,” said Neil, a researcher at Bristol University. “The thorax fur of moths acts as a lightweight porous sound absorber, facilitating acoustic camouflage and offering a significant survival advantage against bats.” Removing the fur from the moth’s thorax increased its detection risk by as much as 38 percent.

Neil used acoustic tomography to quantify echo strength in the spatial and frequency domains of two deaf moth species that are subject to bat predation and two butterfly species that are not.

In comparing the effects of removing thorax fur from insects that serve as food for bats to those that don’t, Neil’s research team found that thoracic fur determines acoustic camouflage of moths but not butterflies.

“We found that the fur on moths was both thicker and denser than that of the butterflies, and these parameters seem to be linked with the absorptive performance of their respective furs,” Neil said. “The thorax fur of the moths was able to absorb up to 85 percent of the impinging sound energy. The maximum absorption we found in butterflies was just 20 percent.”

Neil’s research could contribute to the development of biomimetic materials for ultrathin sound absorbers and other noise-control devices.

“Moth fur is thin and lightweight,” said Neil, “and acts as a broadband and multidirectional ultrasound absorber that is on par with the performance of current porous sound-absorbing foams.”

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Bioreactor device helps frogs regenerate their legs

Bioreactor device helps frogs regenerate their legs

A team of scientists designed a device that can induce partial hindlimb regeneration in adult aquatic African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) by “kick-starting” tissue repair at the amputation site. Their findings, appearing November 6 in the journal Cell Reports, introduce a new model for testing “electroceuticals,” or cell-stimulating therapies.

“At best, adult frogs normally grow back only a featureless, thin, cartilaginous spike,” says senior author Michael Levin, developmental biologist at the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University. “Our procedure induced a regenerative response they normally never have, which resulted in bigger, more structured appendages. The bioreactor device triggered very complex downstream outcomes that bioengineers cannot yet micromanage directly.”

The scientists 3D printed the bioreactor out of silicon and filled it with hydrogel — a sticky glob of polymers. They laced the hydrogel with hydrating silk proteins that promote healing and regeneration, then added progesterone. Progesterone is best known for its role in preparing the uterus for pregnancy, but the hormone has also been shown to promote nerve, blood vessel, and bone tissue repair.

The researchers split the frogs into three groups: experimental, control, and sham. For the experimental and sham group, they sutured the device on the frogs immediately after limb amputation. In the experimental group, the bioreactor released progesterone onto the amputation site. In all cases, they removed the devices after 24 hours.

When they looked at the experimental group frogs at different time points over 9.5 months, they noticed that the bioreactor seemed to trigger a degree of limb regeneration not observed in the other groups. Instead of a typical spike-like structure, the bioreactor treatment resulted in a paddle-like formation closer to a fully formed limb than unaided regeneration could create.

“The bioreactor device created a supportive environment for the wound where the tissue could grow as it did during embryogenesis,” says Levin. “A very brief application of bioreactor and its payload triggered months of tissue growth and patterning.”

Levin and his team took a closer look at the regenerated structures using molecular and histology analyses. They saw that, unlike in the control and sham groups, the regenerating limbs of the bioreactor-treated frogs were thicker with more developed bones, innervation, and vascularization. Analyzing video footage of the frogs in their tanks, they also noticed that the frogs could swim more like unamputated frogs.

RNA sequencing and transcriptome analysis revealed that the bioreactor had altered the gene expression occurring in cells at the amputation site. Genes involved in oxidative stress, serotonergic signalling, and white blood cell activity were upregulated, while some other signaling-related genes were downregulated.

The researchers also observed that scarring and immune responses were downregulated in the bioreactor-treated frogs, suggesting that the added progesterone dampened the body’s natural reaction to injury in a way that benefited the regeneration process.

“In both reproduction and its newly discovered role in brain functioning, progesterone’s actions are local or tissue-specific,” says first author Celia Herrera-Rincon, neuroscientist in Levin’s lab at Tufts University. “What we are demonstrating with this approach is that maybe reproduction, brain processing, and regeneration are closer than we think. Maybe they share pathways and elements of a common — and so far, not completely understood — bioelectrical code.”

Levin’s lab will continue to target bioelectric processes for inducing spinal cord regeneration and tumor reprogramming. They also hope to replicate their bioreactor experiment in mammals. Previous research suggests that mice can partially regenerate amputated fingertips in the right conditions, but their life on land hinders this process.

“Almost all good regenerators are aquatic,” says Levin. “You can imagine why this matters: a mouse that loses a finger or hand, and then grinds the delicate regenerative cells into the flooring material as it walks around, is unlikely to experience significant limb regeneration.”

Levin plans to next add sensors to the device for remote monitoring and optogenetic stimulation, which he hopes will improve control over cellular decision making after injury.

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Bats vs. Dolphins: Ultimate battle of sonar systems

Bats vs. Dolphins: Ultimate battle of sonar systems

Active sensors are incorporated into a number of technologies, such as meteorology devices and self-driving cars, and use the echo from sound, radio or light waves to locate objects. But despite nearly a century of development, these active sensing technologies still fail to replicate the performance of sonars (sound waves) used in the biological world by dolphins and bats for echolocation.

To find ways to improve human-made active sensing, scientists worldwide study the sonar systems of bats and dolphins. During the Acoustical Society of America’s 176th Meeting, held in conjunction with the Canadian Acoustical Association’s 2018 Acoustics Week, Nov. 5-9, at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, Canada, Laura Kloepper, assistant professor at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, will compare bat and dolphin sonar systems, describing her work on how the two animals cope with acoustic interference. She’ll use her findings to argue why bats have the superior system.

“I’m on Team Bat,” said Kloepper. “But I’m going to be presenting dolphin work to argue why bats are better.” She hopes her talk sparks a healthy debate between researchers of both animals.

Kloepper’s talk is part of a special session devoted to bat and dolphin sonar systems. Several of the speakers in the session will appear in a press conference devoted to the subject.

Overcoming Interference, Bat and Dolphin Style

Scientists have long been puzzled by how groups of bats and groups of dolphins distinguish their individual echoes from others within their colony or pod. Laboratory studies have suggested a number of potential bat strategies to overcome this acoustic interference or jamming. “I’m going to be presenting the first study looking at how dolphins might be changing their signals to avoid jamming, or if they are even subject to any sort of acoustic jamming,” said Kloepper.

Kloepper introduced dolphin clicking through a specialized setup of speakers and microphones at U.S. Naval facilities, to interfere with the echolocation of a single dolphin performing a behavioral task. “We were excited to see that when playing this stimulus we see a response,” said Kloepper. “But they don’t have the same level of control of their call as bats do.”

She thinks that this difference in control is related to the level of complexity in the sounds the animals use to echolocate. “The probability of overlapping one call with another dolphin isn’t high, because the clicks are so short, therefore dolphins don’t really have a need to change to avoid any sort of acoustic interference,” said Kloepper. “Bats, on other hand, have calls that are much longer in duration, so have a higher probability of overlapping with other bats when they are flying in the same airspace.”

In her bat studies, Kloepper mounted cameras and microphones onto various mobile platforms, including a hawk trained to fly through, what she describes as “this incredible dark river of bats in the sky” — the bat swarm. These studies and others have revealed that a number of bat species alter how the pitch changes over call duration; these bat species are referred to as frequency-modulating. “They have the ability to be really flexible with their echolocation, which is how they can overcome this jamming,” said Kloepper.

Kloepper’s team is comparing videoed behavior of bats with acoustic detail to answer questions such as what sounds are produced by bats in different positions in the swarm. They’ve managed to acquire some group behavioral information, but the challenge now is to address individual level detail. “We’re currently developing new electronic hardware to go on our drone and hawk that will allow us to really home in on which bat is making which call when it’s in the middle of this massive group,” said Kloepper.

As for dolphins, Kloepper wants to expand their pilot study.

“We want to find out how they respond if we give even more interference — will they be able to echolocate?”

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Rat models of opioid use and addiction explore risk of abuse: Behavioral experiments identify factors at play in relapse, withdrawal, and addiction vulnerability

Rat models of opioid use and addiction explore risk of abuse: Behavioral experiments identify factors at play in relapse, withdrawal, and addiction vulnerability

Society for Neuroscience. “Rat models of opioid use and addiction explore risk of abuse: Behavioral experiments identify factors at play in relapse, withdrawal, and addiction vulnerability.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 November 2018. .

Society for Neuroscience. (2018, November 6). Rat models of opioid use and addiction explore risk of abuse: Behavioral experiments identify factors at play in relapse, withdrawal, and addiction vulnerability. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181106171803.htm

Society for Neuroscience. “Rat models of opioid use and addiction explore risk of abuse: Behavioral experiments identify factors at play in relapse, withdrawal, and addiction vulnerability.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181106171803.htm (accessed November 6, 2018).

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Researchers train AI to spot Alzheimer’s disease ahead of diagnosis

Researchers train AI to spot Alzheimer’s disease ahead of diagnosis


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While Alzheimer’s disease affects tens of millions of people worldwide, it remains difficult to detect early on. But researchers exploring whether AI can play a role in detecting Alzheimer’s in patients are finding that it may be a valuable tool for helping spot the disease. Researchers in California recently published a study in the journal Radiology, and they demonstrated that, once trained, a neural network was able to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in a small number of patients, and it did so based on brain scans taken years before those patients were actually diagnosed by physicians.

The team used brain images — FDG-PET images — to train and test their neural network. With this type of imaging, FDG, a radioactive type of glucose, is injected into a person’s bloodstream, and then that person’s bodily tissue, including brain tissue, takes it up as it would regular glucose. Scientists and physicians can then use a PET scan to get a sense of that tissue’s metabolic activity, depending on how much or how little of the FDG is taken up.

FDG-PET has been used with Alzheimer’s disease, with patients having the disease typically showing lower levels of metabolic activity in certain parts of the brain. But specialists have to analyze these images in order to find evidence of Alzheimer’s disease, and it can get rather tricky since mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s can produce similar results in scans.

So here, the team used 2,109 FDG-PET images from 1,002 patients, training their neural network on 90 percent of them and testing it on the other 10 percent. They also tested their neural network on a separate set of 40 patients who were scanned between 2006 and 2016, and compared the AI’s findings with those of a group of specialists who analyzed the same data.

With the separate set of testing data, the AI was able to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s patients 100 percent of the time, and was able to accurately determine when a patient didn’t have the disease 82 percent of the time. It also predicted these diagnoses an average of more than six years ahead of when those patients were actually diagnosed by physicians. Comparatively, a group of physicians looking at the same scans correctly identified Alzheimer’s patients 57 percent of the time and those without the disease 91 percent of the time. However, differences between AI and physician performance weren’t quite as clear cut when it came down to diagnosing mild cognitive impairment that didn’t develop into Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers note that their study has several limitations, including a small amount of testing data and limited types of training data. And they make it clear that their algorithm needs to be tested further on a much larger data set going forward. But it shows that AI may be a useful tool for radiologists in the future. And other researchers have found this as well, with previous work also showing AI might be able to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease much earlier than we’re able to with traditional methods.

“If we diagnose Alzheimer’s disease when all the symptoms have manifested, the brain volume loss is so significant that it’s too late to intervene,” Jae Ho Sohn, a researcher on the project, said in a statement. “If we can detect it earlier, that’s an opportunity for investigators to potentially find better ways to slow down or even halt the disease process.”

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Amazon sends out toy catalog with no prices ahead of the holidays

Amazon sends out toy catalog with no prices ahead of the holidays


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Amazon’s holiday shopping marketing push is well underway. On Monday, it scrapped the minimum purchase amount for non-Prime customers to qualify for free shipping over the season. In another effort to get consumers to purchase their gifts from Amazon, the company is mailing out millions of copies of its first toy catalog.

The catalog, called “A Holiday of Play,” mimics those from traditional toy retailers, with bold colors and happy kids filling the pages. It includes games (video and board varieties), action figures, dolls, subscription boxes (for STEM toys, Funko figures and books) and, of course, the kids versions of the Echo Dot and Fire 10 HD tablet. It features some expensive products, such as pricey Lego sets, a $400 electric ride-on toy, an LG 4K Ultra HD TV and a $500 Canon EOS Rebel T6 camera kit.

But you’ll need to go online to find out those prices as there aren’t any in the catalog, presumably because they tend to fluctuate. As such, the catalog implores you to scan items with the Amazon app to learn more. The pages are also dotted with Amazon’s SmileCodes. When you scan these, the app takes you to a page with related gift ideas. Alternatively, the items are linked to their respective product pages in the PDF version of the catalog.

If you’d like a physical copy and don’t receive one through the mail, you can pick one up at Amazon Bookstores and 4-star outlets, new stores in which the company sells highly rated goods along with new and trending products.

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AMD launches the first 7nm GPUs, but they’re not for you

AMD launches the first 7nm GPUs, but they’re not for you


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AMD is following through on its promise of releasing 7-nanometer GPUs — not that you can use one yet. The company has formally launched Radeon Instinct MI50 and MI60 cards that use the denser, more efficient chip technology to accelerate specialized computing tasks like AI, cloud services and scientific calculations. The MI60 in particular is billed as the fastest double-precision accelerator of its type, pumping out 7.4 teraflops when crunching 64-bit floating point data. Both boards pack very high-bandwidth (up to 1TB/s) HBM2 memory and can work together in “hive rings” of up to four GPUs thanks to 200GB/s peer-to-peer links.

The MI60 will make the promise of 7nm GPUs a reality by shipping to data centers before the end of 2018, while its more accessible MI50 counterpart should arrive no later than the first quarter of 2019.

This isn’t the 7nm gaming card many people are clamoring for, but it’s still a milestone for the computing industry — you can finally find 7nm tech in a GPU outside of a mobile chip. NVIDIA’s RTX graphics hardware remains built on a 12nm process. Look at this as AMD laying the groundwork for 2019, when 7nm could is more likely to find its way inside your gaming rig.

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Orcasound: A citizen science tool for whale research

Orcasound: A citizen science tool for whale research

A crucial part of studying southern resident killer whales is finding them and quickly alerting experts to send boats out to collect fecal samples or prey fragments to better understand what the whales are eating.

Hydrophones, underwater microphones used to locate whales, are especially useful at night or in poor weather when sighting networks are ineffective. Computer algorithms are playing a growing role in analyzing hydrophone audio data, but human listeners can complement and enhance these algorithms.

A research project known as Orcasound has produced a web application that will enable citizen scientists to listen to livestreaming audio from hydrophones near the San Juan Islands to identify killer whales and other novel sounds.

Scott Veirs, a bioacoustian based in Seattle and lead researcher of the Orcasound project, will describe the new web app and the value of citizen science at the Acoustical Society of America’s 176th Meeting, held in conjunction with the Canadian Acoustical Association’s 2018 Acoustics Week in Canada, Nov. 5-9 at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, Canada.

Citizen scientists have been useful at detecting whales and noticing unusual activity, such as the presence of other animals or noise from shipping traffic. The aim of Orcasound is to provide an inexpensive and user-friendly way for people interested in the study and conservation of marine life to participate in research, Veirs said. The question at the heart of the project, he added, is how to organize and train people listening to the streaming audio to be better detectors of whales. The Orcasound project also saves audio data to online cloud storage servers for later analysis — by both humans and algorithms.

Each node in the network uses an inexpensive Raspberry Pi computer with additional audio hardware. The computers run the Linux operating system and open-source software to encode and send audio using standard data formats made popular by online video streaming services like YouTube. This minimizes costs while maximizing browser compatibility and ease of use. “We want to make it really easy for citizen scientists to listen to signals,” said Veirs.

Future versions of the app will feature a button that users can click when they hear something interesting, which will help annotate the data for algorithms to analyze later. Although there may be somewhat of a friendly rivalry between machines and humans in this arena, the Orcasound app aims to bring synergy between citizen scientists and sophisticated algorithms.

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