7 simple tips to better understand cryptocurrency market data

7 simple tips to better understand cryptocurrency market data

2018 was a wild ride for cryptocurrencies. Despite the many ups and downs experienced by Bitcoin and other major cryptocurrency vendors, the market has proven that it is going to stick around for the long haul.

Though there is still risk involved in cryptocurrency, investors are coming to better understand the challenges and opportunities associated with this exciting sector. As a result, more people are entering the crypto trading sphere than ever before.

If you’re still new to the crypto investing scene, however, the sheer number of investing options — and new terminology — can feel overwhelming. By taking steps to better understand what you’re getting into, you will make wiser investment decisions.

Here are some tips to get you started on the right track:

1) Know the relation between market cap and circulating supply

New cryptocurrency investors may be intimidated by the new vocabulary they need to learn and how these different terms affect pricing. For example, the “market cap” for a particular coin is used to determine the total value of coins on the market. This number is determined by multiplying the coin’s circulating supply by its current price.

The use of the circulating supply, rather than the total supply, is an important distinction. For a variety of reasons, some coins are not available on the public market. Because they aren’t available for trading, they are not counted toward price considerations or the market cap.

2) Keep up with current market conditions

You can read articles debating the pros and cons of various cryptocurrencies, but current market data will always be the most reliable source for identifying trends and making smarter trading decisions.

Fortunately, there are several websites dedicated to providing up-to-the-minute updates regarding changes in price, supply and market cap. Coincap, CoinMarketCap, and CryptoCompare are just a few examples of resources that help investors stay up to date on current prices. Data that is updated in real-time is paired with charts tracking changes over 24-hour and seven-day periods to give investors a better idea of current trends.

3) Follow the leaders

Even when you have real-time data available, making a trading decision based on a “top 100 cryptocurrencies” list can be intimidating.

However, when this data is paired with guidance from top investors, you can have greater confidence in your decisions and even learn a few extra pointers along the way.

Sites like eToro utilize what is known as a “social trading” program that allows top investors to share their knowledge and trading practices.

New investors can use these traders as a guiding reference or even fully match their investment strategies as they learn the ropes. Picking up good habits early on in your investing journey will keep you from making the impulsive decisions that can lead to disaster.

4) Diversification is vital for success

As with traditional investment opportunities, diversification is essential if you wish to come out a financial winner in cryptocurrencies. With a more diversified portfolio, you reduce your overall risk, especially if you invest in coins and tokens that service different sectors.

This also means you should continue to invest in non-crypto spheres. These practices maximize your potential return while alleviating the risk should a particular coin or stock go under.

You can keep your coins organized and protected with a cryptocurrency wallet. These digital wallets serve as a centralized hub for receiving and sending crypto transactions. Keeping your diversified investments locked in a secure wallet will make it easier to keep track of your investments.

5) Understand which factors influence pricing

What causes cryptocurrency prices to rise and fall? Though supply and demand certainly play a role, crypto investors should carefully consider the perceived utility of a cryptocurrency. If a coin is perceived as having several practical applications, it will be more highly sought-after, and therefore, increase in price.

As MyCryptopedia explains, mining difficulty is another major factor that affects pricing: “A higher mining difficulty means that it is harder to mine an additional unit of a coin. This can have an impact on a coin’s perceived value, and subsequently, its price, as increasing a coin’s supply will require more computing power to be used in the mining process.”

Savvy investors should also pay attention to news headlines regarding different coins and tokens. Positive or negative articles will often have a direct correlation on future pricing trends.

6) Research individual coins and tokens

Cryptocurrencies have frequently been called out as nothing more than a scam by skeptical individuals. While many crypto products have proven themselves to be worthwhile investments, other tokens and coins have indeed been scams, some of which have cost investors millions of dollars.

While this isn’t much of a risk with any of the major, better-known cryptocurrencies, anyone considering investing in a new coin or token should do thorough research before making a trade.

By understanding how a coin will operate within the market, you can determine whether or not it is a legitimate opportunity — and if it is legitimate, you can likely identify whether it will actually be a good investment.

In addition to researching market news, resources like All Crypto Whitepapers can greatly assist your investigative efforts. This site collects all documents highlighting cryptocurrencies’ technical details, marketing plans and more so you can better understand what they have to offer.

7) Prepare for volatility

No one can predict what the market will do with 100 percent accuracy — and this is perhaps truer of cryptocurrency than any other investment sector. Panicking over day to day changes in the market value won’t do you much good. You’re more likely to rush into an impulsive decision and make a trade you’ll later regret.

The stock market provides valuable lessons for handling this volatility, as global stock markets are no stranger to sudden rises and falls in pricing. As such, many traditional lessons and tips for handling volatility are just as applicable to crypto investors.

Many of these practices highlight the value of long-term investments by focusing on a future reward rather than daily price fluctuations. Even short-term investors need to exercise a bit of patience and look at the bigger picture. Understanding that volatility is part of crypto investing, but that you should still experience great growth in the long run, will help you make wiser decisions.

Cryptocurrency trading is expected to increase by 50 percent in 2019 alone.

Despite the seemingly never-ending claims that crypto is a “fad” or already dead, it is clear that this investment option is here to stay. By becoming an informed investor now, you can stay ahead of the curve and be better prepared for future market shifts.

This post is brought to you by eToro. eToro is a multi-asset platform which offers both investing in stocks and cryptocurrencies, as well as trading CFD assets.

Please note that CFDs are complex instruments and come with a high risk of losing money rapidly due to leverage. 65% of retail investor accounts lose money when trading CFDs with this provider. You should consider whether you understand how CFDs work, and whether you can afford to take the high risk of losing your money.

Cryptocurrencies can fluctuate widely in price and are, therefore, not appropriate for all investors. Trading cryptocurrencies is not supervised by any EU regulatory framework.

Past performance is not an indication of future results. This is not investment advice. Your capital is at risk.

Published February 5, 2019 — 09:19 UTC

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What drives patients to use medical marijuana: Mostly chronic pain: New study seeks to understand whether people are using cannabis for evidence-based reasons

What drives patients to use medical marijuana: Mostly chronic pain: New study seeks to understand whether people are using cannabis for evidence-based reasons

Slowly but surely, the stigma surrounding marijuana use is losing its grip in the U.S. Since the 1990s, advocates have pushed for a re-evaluation of cannabis (the plant species name often used interchangeably with marijuana) as a viable treatment for a host of ailments. As of 2018, 33 states and the District of Columbia have approved the medical use of cannabis, while 10 states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Despite this fact, at the federal level, marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, defined as a drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

New research from the University of Michigan, published in the February issue of Health Affairs, takes a deeper dive into state medical marijuana registry data to provide more insight into its use.

“We did this study because we wanted to understand the reasons why people are using cannabis medically, and whether those reasons for use are evidence based,” says lead author Kevin Boehnke, Ph.D., research investigator in the department of anesthesiology and the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.

He and his U-M colleagues Daniel J. Clauw, M.D., a professor of anesthesiology, medicine, and psychiatry and Rebecca L. Haffajee, Ph.D., assistant professor of health management and policy, as well as U-M alum Saurav Gangopadhyay, M.P.H., a consultant at Deloitte, sought out data from states with legalized medical use of marijuana.

To examine patterns of use, the researchers grouped patient-reported qualifying conditions (i.e. the illnesses/medical conditions that allowed a patient to obtain a license) into evidence categories pulled from a recent National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report on cannabis and cannabinoids. The report, published in 2017, is a comprehensive review of 10,000 scientific abstracts on the health effects of medical and recreational cannabis use. According to the report, there was conclusive or substantial evidence that chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, and multiple sclerosis (MS) spasticity symptoms were improved as a result of cannabis treatment.

Evidence-based relief

One major finding of the Health Affairs paper was the variability of available data. Less than half of the states had data on patient-reported qualifying conditions and only 20 reported data on the number of registered patients. The authors also noted that the number of licensed medical users, with 641,176 registered medical cannabis patients in 2016 and 813,917 in 2017, was likely far lower than the actual number of users.

However, with the available data, they found that the number of medical cannabis patients rose dramatically over time and that the vast majority — 85.5 percent — of medical cannabis license holders indicated that they were seeking treatment for an evidence-based condition, with chronic pain accounting for 62.2 percent of all patient-reported qualifying conditions.

“This finding is consistent with the prevalence of chronic pain, which affects an estimated 100 million Americans,” the authors state.

This research provides support for legitimate evidence-based use of cannabis that is at direct odds with its current drug schedule status, notes Boehnke. This is especially important as more people look for safer pain management alternatives in light of the current opioid epidemic.

Notes Boehnke, “Since the majority of states in the U.S. have legalized medical cannabis, we should consider how best to adequately regulate cannabis and safely incorporate cannabis into medical practice.”

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Physicists find the limits of multitasking in biological networks

Physicists find the limits of multitasking in biological networks

Many complex systems in biology can be conceptualized as networks. This perspective helps researchers understand how biological systems work on a fundamental level, and can be used to answer key questions in biology, medicine, and engineering.

Blood flow in the brain is a prime example. Blood travels through a network of vessels and can be re-routed to specific parts of the brain as needed. Walking, for example, would require blood flow in different regions than chewing gum.

It’s thought that networks perform such tasks by controlling connections within the network, called “edges.” What physicists hadn’t explored is how many tasks a single network can accomplish simultaneously.

A team of researchers from the Department of Physics & Astronomy published a study in PNAS that addresses this question. Graduate student Jason W. Rocks and former postdoc Henrik Ronellenfitsch, who is now at MIT, were the lead authors of this paper, and worked alongside physicists Andrea Liu and Eleni Katifori, as well as Sidney R. Nagel from the University of Chicago.

The Penn team had previously studied two types of networks. Katifori has examined how nature builds and maintains “flow networks,” such as blood flow, using approaches that are inspired by and related to biology. Liu studies “mechanical networks,” such as the arrangement of amino acids that form a protein, and how these networks can be changed in order to perform a specific biological function.

While these two systems differ from one another, discussions between the Liu and Katifori groups about how much multitasking each network could accomplish helped Liu and Katifori realize that they could study these two seemingly unrelated networks together.

“We were both independently studying the complexity of a particular function that a flow network could do and what a mechanical network could do,” says Katifori. “It was two entirely different physical networks, but in a way the same question.”

The authors developed a set of equations that described each system. They then used simulations to control or “tune” the network so they would perform increasingly complex functions. Rocks, Ronellenfitsch, and their colleagues found that both types of networks succeeded at multitasking.

They were surprised by the similarities in performance between these two seemingly distinct networks. While the physics underlying the two systems is entirely different, they performed similarly in terms of multitasking abilities and controllability. “Quantitatively, they were almost identical,” says Liu.

These results will serve as the foundation for a number of future studies that will delve deeper into how the ability to perform tasks is encoded into networks. For mechanical networks like enzymes, this knowledge could improve biomedical researchers’ ability to design targeted drugs and treatments.

As a first step, Rocks is working on better understanding how the networks actually work. “Up to this point we’ve treated it like a black box,” he says. “But we don’t want to do that. We want to understand how a network performs a specific function. We want to understand what aspects of the network’s structure are important.”

Liu and Katifori are enthusiastic about their collaboration and the results they hope to find in the near future. “If you had asked me before we did this project whether we were going to have the same answer for the two networks, I would say ‘why?'” Katifori says. “But then when you think about it, and when you understand it, you realize the elegance of this study and why these two networks should be the same.”

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Researching the Traders Behind the Cryptocurrency Mania

Researching the Traders Behind the Cryptocurrency Mania

Guest post by Quinn DuPont from University of Washington

Quinn is a Research Associate at the University of Washington.

To better understand who invests in crypto and ICOs, why they do it, and how exactly they make trades, in late 2017—at the peak of the crypto mania—I set out to study people behind the billions in investment and speculative trading.

Research Background

In the run-up market highs in December 2017, seemingly everyone was getting in on the action. Crypto was making front page news as investors of all stripes rushed into the market thinking it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Many were enticed by increasingly easy—and unregulated—onramps, through apps and exchanges trading popular currency pairs. Then came the reckoning, where most lost their investments in a prolonged and protracted bear market. However, do people understand who “invests” in cryptocurrency? Not really.

In this study, I wanted to get behind the news headlines, the drama and trolls, the “market analyses,” and instead speak with real people to see what makes them tick. What follows here is a condensed and edited version of this research, recently published in my comprehensive book, Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains.

Who Trades Crypto?

There are many kinds of crypto traders, from every stripe of the Silicon Valley “crypto bros” to “bitcoin moms” and “crypto chicks.” For the purposes of my research, I interviewed six hobbyist traders and six professional traders, who were typically managers of large funds that invest exclusively in crypto.

The results of this study suggest that this investment market presents numerous unique challenges, but that nonetheless, these traders see themselves as pioneers in an exciting new investment class. I also discovered some unethical and borderline illegal activities, but for the most part, I found a community of people seeking greater regulatory clarity and increased professionalization.

Overall, these investors acted much like traditional venture capital investors, who make big, risky bets, with the hope for just a few successes and big payouts. Finance and capital in the world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies present economic and social opportunity and risk, and like a gold rush in the wild west, there are fortunes to be made and lost.

New Exotics of the Second Decade

If it is true that high-flying financial instruments were, to borrow a phrase from anthropologist Bill Maurer, the “new exotic” of the first decade of the millennium, then surely cryptocurrencies and blockchains must be the new exotic for the second decade.

Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies are part of a larger “fintech moment,” and an important part, as they are increasing the already ongoing algorithmization and obfuscation of financial activities, exemplifying the virtual and performative nature of financial instruments and increasing the social, physical, and moral distance between money and its agents. As such, these global changes present real risks that reach far beyond the individual, perhaps clueless, investor.

Neither inherently bad or good, crypto is a powerful new financial engine for a broader financial technology sector with still largely unknown social and political characteristics and implications. But of course, speculative investing in crypto does pose serious individual financial risks, and sane financial advice would be to caution against it for all but the most risk-tolerant investors.

Huge Risks in Most Aspects

Practically speaking, there are huge risks in every part of the investment: exchanges and wallets are frequently hacked or mismanaged (many exchanges have disappeared due to ineptitude or outright criminality, often absconding with investors’ funds), investment scams are rampant, markets and prices are easily and commonly manipulated, many markets are so “thin” that trading is practically illiquid, usability and operations management are complex and error-prone (millions have been lost by simple and irreversible transaction errors), and trading fees are often high (see David Gerard’s hilarious and trenchant account of the many crypto hijinks). And of course, a big part of the reason investment is risky is that the crypto market in most jurisdictions remains largely unregulated, uncertain, and evolving.

Despite the considerable risk, many of the investors I spoke with believe the investment market is a rare opportunity. Of course, several reported making early mistakes, but all more than recovered in the runup to 2018, although in the bear market, some hedge funds have closed and many hobbyists have been unable to earn back their losses.

More generally, it remains to be seen whether the future market is going to be a massive new investment class, as the investors I spoke with believe, or something much smaller. Will the crypto market scale to the size of a mainstream financial derivative, like options (hundreds of trillions), or a subclass like NASDAQ technology stock index (trillions)? Or, perhaps crypto will emerge as a new kind of commodity, trading alongside the palm oil market (billions)?

How Hobbyists and Professionals Differ

I found that when hobbyists traded crypto, they characterized their activities in profoundly social terms; professional traders, on the other hand, characterized their activities in a more dispassionate and technical way. In a sense, this is not surprising.

What is remarkable is the degree to which hobbyists saw their “communities” as essential to their investment activities. For instance, many hobbyists reported active engagement in social media, although, importantly, almost never made trade decisions based on these social interactions. Instead, hobby traders actively collaborated in an “ideational” way, alerting each other to new ICOs, changes in software development teams, and new market opportunities. One participant had even formed a kind of “water cooler” group of like-minded individuals at her place of work, leveraging the shared interest in crypto as a way to enter into an all-male in-group.

The professional traders—being fund managers at the top of the staff hierarchy—relied on a cadre of employed researchers, employed largely to do the grunt work of checking on the validity of claims made by organizations and development teams. The professional crypto traders I spoke with seemed to work in a more individualist fashion than traditional hedge fund managers, who use a kind of distributed and social cognition, according to Donald MacKenzie’s longitudinal research. For the professionals, consulting and collaborating with other traders was limited, and in most cases non-existent.

Echoing a general and popular interest in ICOs during my interview period (which has since cooled considerably), hobby and professional traders alike sought ICOs extensively. Nonetheless, I found the investment use of ICOs and post-launch “coins” to be surprisingly diverse.

Hobby and professional traders sought ICOs as venture capital funds do for traditional startups, even in some cases taking leadership and board roles and advising on strategy. This was not exclusive to well-capitalized hedge funds either, several of the more committed hobby traders also expressed some participation in the leadership of ICOs and crypto companies—a surprisingly democratic financial opportunity. Hobby and professional traders also saw ICOs as relatively cheap and high-risk high-reward investments, explaining the need to be well informed about emerging companies and upcoming ICOs.

Indeed, from the outside, the distinction between insider trading, venture capital funding, and crypto trading are very blurry and problematic.

Once in a Lifetime

Most traders told me that their participation in the crypto market, despite the risks, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and a way to create “generational wealth.”

One professional trader expressed regret about missing the 1990s dot com boom—although, apparently not concerned that the boom led to a bust that ruined many investors—and saw the crypto boom as his generation’s big investment opportunity. Several traders also described the spirit of the market in terms of a “wild west,” and that their roles were as “pioneers.” Expectedly, all traders spoke of crypto investing with considerable enthusiasm and commitment.

It seems nobody gets into this game half-way.

Guest post by Quinn DuPont from University of Washington

Founded in 1861, the University of Washington is one of the oldest state-supported institutions of higher education on the West Coast and is one of the preeminent research universities in the world.

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Disclaimer: Our writers’ opinions are solely their own and do not reflect the opinion of CryptoSlate. None of the information you read on CryptoSlate should be taken as investment advice, nor does CryptoSlate endorse any project that may be mentioned or linked to in this article. Buying and trading cryptocurrencies should be considered a high-risk activity. Please do your own due diligence before taking any action related to content within this article. Finally, CryptoSlate takes no responsibility should you lose money trading cryptocurrencies.

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Urbanization may hold key to tiger survival: Conservationists look at five human socioeconomic scenarios to better understand fate of endangered big cat

Urbanization may hold key to tiger survival: Conservationists look at five human socioeconomic scenarios to better understand fate of endangered big cat

A new WCS-led study published in the journal Biological Conservation says the future of tigers in Asia is linked the path of demographic transition — for humans. The study marks the first-of-its-kind analysis that overlays human population scenarios with the fate of these endangered big cats.

Prior to the 20th century, some experts estimate there were more than 100,000 tigers living in the wild; today that number is between 3000 — 4000. At the same, over the last 150 years, the human population of Asia as grown from 790 million to over 4 billion, with dire consequences for tigers and other wildlife.

But these trends are changing. The demographic transition is the process by which human populations peak and then go down. The researchers looked at different scenarios of economic, education, migration, and urbanization policy. In 2010, 57 million people lived in areas defined as “tiger conservation landscapes” that contained all of the world’s remaining wild tigers. However, by 2100, depending on population trends, as few as 40 million people could be sharing space with tigers, or it could be as many as 106 million.

Different population scenarios depend on the course of the demographic transition. Over the long-term, the scenarios associated with the lowest human populations are also associated with the greatest levels of urbanization and education. At the same time, urban consumption is the source of many of the threats to tigers. Therefore, the authors say conservation authorities must engage with people in cities to save tigers, while continuing to support site-level protection efforts around tiger source sites.

Said lead author Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist with WCS: “Urbanization and the subsequent human demographic transition is arguably the most important historical trend shaping the future of conservation. How that transition plays out is not pre-determined. Rather it depends on the policy decisions that governments, and the societies they represent, take with respect to fundamental matters such as urban governance, education, economic reform, and the movement of people and trade goods. These decisions matter for us and tigers too.”

Said co-author and WCS Senior Vice President of Field Conservation Joe Walston: “If we want a world with tigers, forests, and wildness to persist beyond the 21st century, conservation needs to join forces with groups working to alleviate poverty, enhance education for girls, reduce meat consumption, and build sustainable cities.”

Said co-author Professor Bryan Jones of Baruch College: “Demographic futures, and the socioeconomic causes and consequences thereof, are notoriously difficult to predict. As such, biophysical futures are similarly fraught with uncertainty. Understanding the consequences of different pathways, driven in large part by policy decisions, is crucial to developing a conservation strategy to protect the planets most endangered habitats. Our ability to understand the future will depend in part on how well we understand urbanization, in terms of both land use and demographic behavior.”

The paper builds on a 2018 WCS study that found that the enormous trends toward population stabilization, poverty alleviation, and urbanization are rewriting the future of biodiversity conservation in the 21st century, offering new hope for the world’s wildlife and wild places.

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Many Facebook users still don’t understand how targeted ads work

Many Facebook users still don’t understand how targeted ads work


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Despite major scandals, Congressional hearings, and efforts to highlight user privacy controls, most Facebook users still don’t know the social network shares their interests with advertisers, according to a new survey conducted by Pew Research Center. When they do find out, they usually aren’t pleased to discover how Facebook categorizes them.

After asking 963 Facebook users, Pew found that 74 percent of people had no clue about Facebook’s ad categories — a list of descriptors based on user activity that allows marketers to target ads at specific groups of people. Once they were informed of how Facebook classifies them, 51 percent of people said they weren’t comfortable with that practice.

Some of that discomfort likely comes from how accurate Facebook’s categorizations can be. Pew found that nearly three in five people said Facebook’s lists very or somewhat accurately reflected their interests. About one in four people surveyed found the categories created by Facebook to be less than accurate.

Facebook’s categorizations also touch on some touchy subjects. Pew dug into the political affiliations and “multicultural affinities” that Facebook uses to quantify its users and found that more than half of people surveyed had a political label applied to their profile, while 21 percent had some sort of cultural label.

Over the last few years, Facebook has taken an increasing amount of heat over targeted advertising. Much of the criticism came following the 2016 US presidential election, during which Russian operators purchased ads targeted at voters. Reports have also surfaced about Facebook’s tools being used to target users based on their race and people with racist and hateful worldviews.

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2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e first drive review: Efficient stability

2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e first drive review: Efficient stability

People are quick to make fun of the Toyota Prius, and I understand why: It looks kind of weird, and its earliest adopters were maybe a bit too smug. But people capable of looking past that bullplop quickly realize it’s actually a versatile, competent and, yes, extremely efficient hybrid hatchback.

Perhaps that’s why Toyota isn’t terribly worried about the continued success of the Prius in the face of automakers slashing non-SUV lineups. The company expects to sell about 50,000 examples of the Prius liftback in 2019, in addition to the 4.3 million it’s already sold. Furthermore, about 25 percent of next year’s sales are expected to come thanks to the latest trick up the Prius’ sleeve: all-wheel drive.

Tiny motor, not a big difference

For the 2019 model year, the Prius finally gains all-wheel drive in the US, having had it in Japan for a couple years. This new setup, which Toyota calls AWD-e, takes up about 25 percent less space than the larger rear-axle AWD system found in the RAV4 and Highlander, all in the name of efficiency.

That drive for all the emm-pee-gees also means Toyota swapped in an electric motor without a permanent magnet, which is some engineering-degree-tier stuff that Toyota says creates less fuel-sucking drag than a motor with a magnet. This electric motor adds about 7 horsepower and 40 pound-feet of torque to the mix — up front, the 1.8-liter I4 gas engine and its electric motor put out 121 hp and 105 pound-feet — but the added weight should cancel out any potential performance benefits.

Even the AWD-e system’s operation is geared for efficiency. To that end, it’s not always running — it always provides four wheels’ worth of traction and torque from launch to 6 mph, and it’ll provide grip as required up to 43 mph, at which point it disengages and acts like a front-wheel-drive car. That’s why Toyota expects the AWD Prius to hit 50 mpg combined, just 2 mpg less than the FWD Prius. Having a physical connection to the front end would only harm fuel economy, which is why the AWD-e system hangs out back there on its lonesome.

I could stand and scream about the perfectly fine nature of FWD cars when equipped with winter tires, but the fact of the matter is buyers would rather get their peace of mind from all-wheel drive, and Toyota’s happy to supply it.

On and off the road

To give me an idea of how the AWD-e system works, Toyota set up a small handling course in Kohler, Wisconsin, consisting of a 6 percent grade and a chicane, both of which were covered in fresh snow. There’s no drama as the 2019 Prius stops halfway up the grade and accelerates from a standstill — moderate throttle application is met with the whir of the electric motor doing its business, and that’s it. No muss, no fuss.

On the chicane, however, the AWD Prius feels pretty darn lively. Not knowing when the system will activate the rear motor means the tuchus wiggles arrive suddenly, but not in a way that makes the car feel unstable or anything. It’s just a little excitable, and judicious throttle application can, in fact, get a little bit of a drift going on. I’ll even go so far as to say it feels fun in the snow.

By comparison, the front-wheel-drive Prius feels a little more stable on the chicane. Having all the power go through the front wheels means that the rears will just follow suit all day long, with no ability to move under their own power. I wasn’t allowed to take the FWD Prius up the 6 percent grade for comparison, and while I feel confident that a running start will get the car up a hill like this just fine, it’s definitely easier to tackle in the AWD variant.

On the roads in Sheboygan and Kohler, both Prius variants feel nearly the same. On cold, dry roads, the extra boost from the rear motor doesn’t change how the vehicle acts when accelerating from a stop — and again, it never engages over 43 mph, so both cars drive exactly the same at highway speeds. It’s not a system that’s supposed to be felt at all times, so in that sense, it works exactly as Toyota’s engineers intended, offering extra peace of mind but only when necessary.

Even Toyota’s photographers couldn’t resist having a bit of fun.


Toyota

Easier on the eyes

Aesthetically, the Prius isn’t for everyone. Without beating a dead horse, I will say that while it’s still plenty quirky, it’s been toned down a little, and I like the results. Up front, a revised front fascia features more compact headlights, and I think it looks better. I’m still torn about the rear end, which switched from vertical taillights to a set that more closely aligns with the Prius Prime. Some people I’ve talked with think it looks cleaner, but not everyone agrees, myself included.

The inside is far more straightforward, gauge cluster notwithstanding. Tall windows make for great visibility, and the rear hatch continues to sport a lower glass section further improving the views. There’s more than enough space in the second row for a 6-foot passenger sitting behind a 6-foot driver. The rear seat bottom is super flat, so somebody stuck in the middle should be sufficiently comfy. My only complaint about the interior is the increased reliance on gloss black — while it’s an improvement over the pre-2019 Prius’ bright white trim, it’s still a fingerprint magnet.

Standard safety and a honker of a screen

While all-wheel-drive trims must make do with a 6.1-inch Entune touchscreen infotainment system, the top Limited trim gets the 11.6-inch screen that first appeared on the Prius Prime plug-in and made its way to the regular Prius in the 2018 model year. Both systems offer similar aesthetics and functionality, but I can’t deny how impressive it is to have that large of a map in front of your face. While Toyota will soon add Apple CarPlay functionality, it didn’t make the development cycle for the 2019 Prius. Bummer.

As with prior Priuses, the gauge cluster is smack dab in the center of the dashboard. I think it’s a little less intuitive than a regular cluster in front of the driver, but it’s still mighty capable, offering up a whole bunch of information simultaneously. While tackling the short snow course, I like being able to see when and how the Prius delivers its power to each wheel.

In terms of charging options, there are plenty. The front row gets both USB ports and, depending on trim, a Qi wireless phone charger. But now the back row can get some juice, as well, thanks to two 2.1-amp USB ports mounted on the rear of the center console.  

The Toyota Safety Sense suite of active and passive driver aids has slowly crept its way across damn near the entire Toyota lineup, including trucks like the Tacoma. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s standard across the Prius line, as well. Every 2019 Prius will come with autobrake, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and full-speed adaptive cruise control.

The big screen is definitely impressive, but the smaller one still gives you all the information you need.


Toyota

Down to brass tacks

Despite the revisions, the Prius remains affordable. The L Eco base trim starts at $23,770, with the LE at $24,980, the XLE at $27,820 and the Limited at $32,200. AWD is only available on the LE and XLE trims, bringing the price up to $26,380 and $28,820, respectively. 50 mpg for less than $30,000 is a pretty solid place to be.

While the writing might be on the wall for non-SUVs, at least for now, Toyota isn’t backing down. There are plenty of people who will move up to a RAV4 Hybrid if they want. But some buyers want versatility and practicality without having to buy a crossover. Those buyers will definitely appreciate the addition of all-wheel drive to the Prius’ lineup, because it only sweetens the deal on a car that’s already pretty darn good.


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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Scientists brew lava and blow it up to better understand volcanoes

Scientists brew lava and blow it up to better understand volcanoes

What happens when lava and water meet? Explosive experiments with humanmade lava are helping to answer this important question.

By cooking up 10-gallon batches of molten rock and injecting them with water, scientists are shedding light on the basic physics of lava-water interactions, which are common in nature but poorly understood.

The project — a long-term, ongoing study led by the University at Buffalo — published its first results on Dec. 10 in the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR): Solid Earth.

The scientists caution that the number of tests so far is small, so the team will need to conduct more experiments to draw firm conclusions.

The research shows that lava-water encounters can sometimes generate spontaneous explosions when there is at least about a foot of molten rock above the mixing point. In prior, smaller-scale studies that used about a coffee cup’s worth of lava, scientists in Germany found that they needed to apply an independent stimulus — in essence pricking the water within the lava — to trigger a blast.

The results reported in JGR: Solid Earth also point to some preliminary trends, showing that in a series of tests, larger, more brilliant reactions tended to occur when water rushed in more quickly and when lava was held in taller containers. (The team ran a total of 12 experiments in which water injection speeds ranged from about 6 to 30 feet per second, and in which lava was held in insulated steel boxes that ranged in height from about 8 to 18 inches.)

“If you think about a volcanic eruption, there are powerful forces at work, and it’s not a gentle thing,” says lead investigator Ingo Sonder, PhD, research scientist in the Center for Geohazards Studies at UB. “Our experiments are looking at the basic physics of what happens when water gets trapped inside molten rock.”

Sonder will discuss the findings at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting today.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Understanding lava-water encounters at real volcanoes

In nature, the presence of water can make volcanic activity more dangerous, such as during past eruptions of Hawaii’s Kilauea and Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull. But in other cases, the reaction between the two materials is subdued.

Sonder wants to understand why: “Sometimes, when lava encounters water, you see huge, explosive activity. Other times, there is no explosion, and the lava may just cool down and form some interesting shapes. What we are doing is trying to learn about the conditions that cause the most violent reactions.”

Eventually, findings from the long-term project could improve scientists’ ability to assess the risk that volcanoes near ice, lakes, oceans and underground water sources pose to people who live in surrounding communities.

“The research is still in the very early stages, so we have several years of work ahead of us before we’ll able to look at the whole range and combination of factors that influence what happens when lava or magma encounters water,” says Valentine, study co-author and director of the Center for Geohazards Studies at UB.

“However, everything we do is with the intention of making a difference in the real world,” he says. “Understanding basic processes having to do with volcanoes will ultimately help us make better forecasting calls when it comes to eruptions.”

Large-scale volcanic experiments

Lava-water interactions are associated with a phenomenon known as a molten fuel coolant interaction, in which a liquid fuel (a heat source) reacts violently with a liquid coolant. Much of the experimental work in this field has been done in the context of industrial safety, with a focus on understanding potential dangers in nuclear power plants and metal production sites.

The lava-water experiments build on previous research in this area, while focusing on molten rock.

The work takes place at UB’s Geohazards Field Station in Ashford, New York, some 40 miles south of Buffalo. Run by the UB Center for Geohazards Studies, the facility gives scientists a place to conduct large-scale experiments simulating volcanic processes and other hazards. In these tests, researchers can control conditions in a way that isn’t possible at a real volcano, dictating, for example, the shape of the lava column and the speed at which water shoots into it.

To make lava, scientists dump basaltic rock into a high-powered induction furnace. They heat it up for about 4 hours. When the mixture reaches a red-hot 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s poured into an insulated steel box and injected with two or three jets of water.

Then, a hammer drives a plunger into the mix to help stimulate an explosion. (In some cases, if enough molten rock was present above the injection point, an intense reaction began before the hammer fell).

In addition to identifying some preliminary trends, the published study attests to the wide variety of physical processes that can occur when lava and water meet.

“The system response to water injection varied from mild, evaporation-dominated processes, in which only a little melt was ejected from the container alongside some steam, to stronger reactions with visible steam jets, and with melt domains ejected to several meters height,” the scientists wrote in JGR: Solid Earth.

Breaking the vapor film?

The study did not examine why box height and water injection speed corresponded with the biggest explosions. But Sonder, whose has a background in geosciences and physics, offers some thoughts.

He explains that when a blob of water is trapped by a much hotter substance, the outer edges of the water vaporize, forming a protective film that envelops the rest of the water like a bubble, limiting heat transfer into the water and preventing it from boiling. This is called the Leidenfrost effect.

But when water is injected rapidly into a tall column of lava, the water — which is about three times lighter than the lava — will speed upward and mix with the molten rock more quickly. This may cause the vapor film to destabilize, Sonder says. In this situation, the unprotected water would expand rapidly in volume as it heated up, imposing high stresses on the lava, he says. The result? A violent explosion.

In contrast, when water is injected slowly into shallower pools of lava, the protective vapor film may hold, or the water may reach the lava’s surface or escape as steam before an explosion occurs, Sonder says.

He hopes to explore these theories through future experiments: “Not a lot of work has been done in this field,” he says, “so even some of these basic processes are really not well understood.”

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One’s Smart Piano helped me play, but not understand

One’s Smart Piano helped me play, but not understand

As a kid, I was given a book about a famous doctor who may or may not have been Albert Schweitzer. The first chapter is how he, as a young boy, learned the value of practice from his music teacher. It was a lesson he learned early enough to become not only a virtuoso musician, but also a physician and philosopher. I suspect I was given the tome as a way of encouraging me to practice the piano in the hope of becoming as good as ol’ Albo. That didn’t quite happen.

Gallery: One Piano Keyboard Pro | 8 Photos

That might be because I’ve never been one to practice too much. But then I wonder if it’s because I didn’t have the right tools, like One’s Smart Piano. Devices like these teach novice musicians to play in the same vein as most rhythm games. If you’ve ever seen Guitar Hero, DDR, Rocksmith, Synthesia and its kin, then you know what the deal is. It’s an otherwise ordinary digital piano has a strip of lights running above the keyboard that’ll light up when it’s time to play. That is, of course, if you’ve connected it to a device (it’s obviously intended for a tablet) that sits on the stand.

To be fair (to myself), I’m not a terrible pianist. I’m just not one that’s capable of playing music under observation. As soon as I know someone’s listening or watching (or that I’m being recorded) my aptitude deserts me. It’s funny, because I don’t suffer from stage fright: I perform improv and stand-up in front of hundreds of people without worry.

Of the three-and-a-half models in One’s range, I’ve been using the $770 Smart Keyboard Pro, which I believe is the one most people should opt for. At the higher end, there’s the $1,350 Smart Piano, with 88 hammer-action keys and built-in soft, sostenuto and sustain pedals. At the lower end, you have the Smart Keyboard, a 61-key portable keyboard for $269.99. And, for $30 less, you can pick up the Hi-Lite, which is just a light-up strip that you can retrofit onto your existing digital piano.

The Keyboard Pro is closer to the Smart Piano, packing 88 hammer-action keys and 128-key polyphony. The big difference is the lack of a wooden stand, and consequently you’ll need to buy an aftermarket sustain pedal. Interestingly, there’s only the one 6.35mm port ’round back for the sustain, the soft and sostenuto port is hidden under the keyboard’s body. And if you want those pedals, you’ll have to buy the accompanying stand from One for an extra $150.

One Piano

Priced at $800, it’s roughly in the same price bracket as Casio’s low-end Privia range of digital pianos for beginners. I had expected the Smart Keyboard Pro to feel cheap and plasticy but it’s certainly not. In fact, I’d say that the quality isn’t that much of a step down from a low-end, but not cheap, digital pianos from Casio or Yamaha.

The keys, too, have a wonderfully-weighted hammer action that’s again the equal to a low-end digital piano. Certainly, they don’t have the same weight, texture and presence as you’d find on a hybrid piano or a high-end model. I mean, they’re plastic, not coated wood or any other sort of substitute for ivory. But for this sort of price, I have few complaints about the keys.

Most digital pianos have pretty awkward user interfaces, either with a series of ugly and arcane hardware buttons, or ugly and arcane LCD displays. One (the company) sought to get rid of all of that by putting all of the controls into its mobile app rather than on the device itself. On the upside, it means that this keyboard is beautifully minimalist, with just a power button and volume control. On the downside, it means you can’t do much of anything without a phone connected.

Specifically, if you want to change the voice from the default Grand Piano setting, you’ll need the app. According to the company, there are 691 timbres, 11 drum sets and 256 GM2 timbres that you can cycle through. And, like most digital pianos, you’ll only ever want to use a handful of them — unless you really, really love crappy MIDI synth sounds. The company says that it sampled all of the voices itself.

Initially, my plan was to pick up and learn a popular song of the day and hope my skills hadn’t atrophied too much. Perhaps I could glean the bare bones of a recent hit, dash out to find my nearest public piano, and be proficient enough to get passers-by to do a little dance as they passed me. In the UK, various public institutions — from the train station to the shopping mall — are putting old uprights out for anyone to use.

Sadly, my abilities had deserted me, and more importantly, the One’s library of songs didn’t offer much to inspire me, either.

MusicNotes already has Thank u, Next and the songbook from A Star is Born and The Greatest Showman on its front page. One’s music store has the songs from the Barbra Streisand version of A Star is Born.

As a kid, one of the big problems with learning the piano over the guitar was that most mainstream music was written for the latter. If I, as a piano kid, wanted to learn a Foo Fighters song, I’d have to buy the Guitar/Tab/Vocal and note it up with a pencil. That situation has improved in the last few years thanks to online publisher platforms like MusicNotes. Sadly, One’s music store is more reminiscent of my childhood music shop than the present situation.

One Piano

Unsurprisingly, there’s an emphasis on classical music, with the popular music limited to stuff that’s very popular and very out of date. Search for a superstar like Taylor Swift, and you’ll find just 14 tracks, all of which were recorded on or before 2012. Ariana Grande, similarly, only has six songs available to buy, despite being everywhere this year. Meanwhile, MusicNotes already has Thank u, Next and the songbook from A Star is Born and The Greatest Showman on its front page. One’s music store has the songs from the Barbra Streisand version of A Star is Born.

Now, to One’s credit, it has recently entered into a deal with Alfred Music and Hal Leonard, which should remedy some of the problem. Both are major US music publishers and a glance at their current libraries would improve matters here no end (Taylor Swift! Ed Sheeran! Lin-Manuel Miranda! Queen! Elton John! Katy Perry! Bruno Mars!) .

I try, for a while, to master Let It Go from Frozen and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, which are still kinda relevant. I also have a bash at Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli’s Time to Say Goodbye, but it’s just too hard. Imagine your first time playing Dance Dance Revolution and the machine is set to the hardest song at the hardest difficulty and you’ll be there. I’m not a concert pianist, and my hands are out of shape enough that I couldn’t even hit some of the octave-spanning chords.

So, I opt for the piano’s Crash Course option, which will nurse you through the first stages of a song. The selection of 16 tracks comprises the sort of standards everyone wishes they could belt out in an emergency. You know, the Wedding March, We Wish you a Merry Christmas and Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star. I opt for Beethoven’s Für Elise, a classical standard that is one of the first songs any budding pianist will attempt to learn.

The app takes you through each movement, hand by hand, piece by piece, alternating between the right and left hand parts. When you’re at around 80 percent accuracy for both parts on their own, you can then work to play them together. Piece by piece, the song is built up until you’re well-drilled in the basics of the song.

one

If there’s a concern, it’s that it’s hard to recover when you make a mistake, because you only know the pattern to follow. All I’ve done is rote-learn the piece, rather than gain any meaningful understanding of the music. But then, given that I’m not going to become Albert Schweitzer (or whoever it was), is that too much of a big deal?

Yes, because when you graduate from the Crash Course, you’re looking at a catalog of songs all available in sheet music form. You haven’t learned how to read sheet music.

The disconnect here is that you’re learning how to play a tune from memory as a beginner, and then dropped into the deep end when you graduate. Rather than a gentle, staggered learning curve, you’re going straight from training wheels to the Tour de France.

That’s not a fatal flaw, but one that One will need to address if it wants its products to have real utility. Perhaps the company could find a way to algorithmically break down new songs into small, teachable portions. Or perhaps the training element can be refined to incorporate sight reading.

I never thought that the One Smart Keyboard Pro would make me Josh Cohen or Max Haymer. But I’m planning to impress the relatives of Für Elise this holiday season, if my nerves hold.

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Ohio Becomes The First State To Allow Taxpayers To Pay Tax Bills Using Cryptocurrency

Ohio Becomes The First State To Allow Taxpayers To Pay Tax Bills Using Cryptocurrency

Getty

By now, most taxpayers understand that there are tax consequences associated with cryptocurrency, but ironically, until recently you couldn’t pay those taxes using cryptocurrency. That’s about to change: With the launch of OhioCrypto.com, Ohio will become the first state in the nation to accept tax payments using cryptocurrency.

“We are proud to make Ohio the first state in the nation to accept tax payments via cryptocurrency,” said Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. “We’re doing this to provide Ohioans more options and ease in paying their taxes and also to project Ohio’s leadership in embracing blockchain technology.”

Under the new payment system, not all taxpayers can make payment in cryptocurrency: It’s limited to businesses operating in Ohio. Offering the service to individual taxpayers is on the agenda, but Mandel hasn’t indicated any specific timeframe for the expansion.

Here’s how it works: If you operate a business in the State of Ohio and you have a tax bill, you can register online at OhioCrypto.com to pay your taxes. You can make payments on any of 23 eligible business-related taxes (you can find a list here), and there is no transaction limit.

The Treasurer’s office isn’t holding, mining or investing in cryptocurrency for payments or processing. All cryptocurrency payments are processed by a third-party cryptocurrency payment processor, BitPay. Those payments are immediately converted to dollars before being deposited into a state account. 

“The State of Ohio is the first major government entity offering its citizens the option to pay with cryptocurrency,” said Stephen Pair, cofounder and CEO of BitPay. “With BitPay, Ohio can leverage blockchain technology and benefit from reduced risk and identity fraud as well as enabling quick and easy payments from any device anywhere in the world and get paid in dollars. This vision is at the forefront of moving blockchain payments into mainstream adoption.”

You’ll need to use Payment Protocol-compatible wallets to pay. Those include BitPay Wallet; Copay Wallet; BTC.com Wallet; Mycelium Wallet; Edge Wallet (formerly Airbitz); Electrum Wallet; Bitcoin Core Wallet; Bitcoin.com Wallet; BRD Wallet (breadwallet); and Bitcoin Cash (BCH) Wallets. If you don’t have one of these wallets, OhioCrypto.com advises you to create one and send some coin to it.

Currently, the Treasurer’s office only accepts Bitcoin for payment, but the plan is to add other cryptocurrencies in the future.

There is a cost associated with paying in cryptocurrency (it’s worth noting taxpayers who pay via credit cards or debit cards are also subject to fees from payment providers but are not assessed fees through the Treasurer’s office). Taxpayers paying using cryptocurrency are charged a transaction fee, network fee and miner fee. The miner fee will be displayed in the taxpayer’s wallet and not on OhioCrypto.com. The transaction fee will be 0% during an initial three-month introductory period, and after that time, it will be 1%. 

(An email to the Treasurer’s office about any costs to the State of Ohio for the service was not immediately returned.)

What You Need To Know About Taxes & Cryptocurrency

Forbes Kelly Phillips Erb

It will be interesting to see if other state governments follow suit. A bill to accept bitcoin as payment for taxes was ultimately voted down, 264 to 74, by the New Hampshire legislature in 2016. A similar measure in Utah also failed to pass, while a bill to accept crypto for payments in Georgia stalled earlier this year. However, states are still trying: Arizona’s state legislature actually passed a crypto payment measure, but it was vetoed on May 16, 2018.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) doesn’t currently accept cryptocurrency as payment either. By law, the IRS issues Regulations (interpretations of the tax code) and other guidance about the kinds of payment which can be used to pay taxes. The IRS has authorized payment by check, money order, credit card and debit card—but not by Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency. (You can find more ways to pay your IRS tax bill here.)

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Strange interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is tiny and very reflective

Strange interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is tiny and very reflective


European Southern Observatory / M. Kornmesser

After no small amount of mystery, we’re starting to understand more about ‘Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object to visit the Solar System. A newly published study indicates that the object can’t be that large, for one thing. As the Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared detection couldn’t catch the cigar-shaped entity, that makes it relatively small. It’s likely less than half a mile (2,600 feet) at its longest. It also can’t have a diameter larger than 1,440 feet, and that figure could be as small as 320 feet.

The research also found something unusual: it’s extremely reflective, potentially up to 10 times more than Solar System comets. Just what caused this isn’t certain, though. It could be that ‘Oumuamua lost a lot of its surface dirt and dust as it passed near the Sun, which (combined with gas from the object itself) left it covered in reflective ice and snow. This happens with local comets, although not necessarily to this degree.

There’s one major problem with verifying details: it’s likely too late. The object is now roughly as far from the Sun as Saturn, and that puts it too far away for study by current space telescopes. Whatever its exact nature, we may have to wait a long while to get more answers — if we get any at all.

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Trying to understand cells’ interior design: Scientists suggest DNA flexibility plays a role in forming membrane-less organelles

Trying to understand cells’ interior design: Scientists suggest DNA flexibility plays a role in forming membrane-less organelles

How do you imagine the interior of our cells? Often compared to tiny factories, cells found smart and sophisticated ways to organize their ‘interior’. Most biological processes require cells to bring together their ’employees’, such as proteins and nucleic acids (like DNA), at the right time. Scientists at the Center for Soft and Living Matter, within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS, South Korea), have explained how liquid-like droplets made of proteins and DNA form in vitro. Currently, there is a huge interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms behind the creation of such droplets, as it is linked to some human diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The results, published as a featured article in Biophysical Journal, showed how much the sequence of DNA matters in the formation of such droplets.

In the same way as walls divide a factory into departments, the cell has lipid membranes to divide its space into organelles. However, in the past 10 years, scientists have realized that some cellular compartments that are not enclosed by membranes, also known as membrane-less organelles, behave like dense liquid droplets. A bit like a team of people meeting up in an open space office to carry out a job, these are dynamic assemblies with specific tasks. However, how are these membrane-less organelles assembled, and are they influenced by their content is still unclear.

To answer some of these questions, IBS scientists tested how different sequences of DNA form droplets with a simple protein made from a single repeating amino-acid; lysine (poly-L-lysine). The two have opposite charges so they attract each other, but are still able to remain in solution.

The IBS team compared double- and single-stranded DNA. Double-stranded DNA is twisted into a helix like a spiral staircase. Each step of the staircase is made by two bonded nucleotides: adenosine with thymidine (A-T) and guanine with cytosine (G-C). Because of its helix structure, double-stranded DNA is quite stiff, and is often modeled as a rigid rod. In contrast, single-stranded DNA — half of the staircase in the vertical direction, with unpaired nucleotides — is more flexible.

“It was a frustrating time about two years ago, when we wanted to form a model droplet system containing double-stranded DNA and poly-L-lysine,” recalls Anisha Shakya, the key contributor to the study. “The two kept on aggregating and getting precipitated. On the other hand, single-stranded DNA formed droplets easily.” This result, though frustrating at first, led Shakya to search for a deeper explanation.

The two IBS researchers involved in the study found that even when the overall electric charge between two DNA molecules is the same, the DNA sequence ultimately determines the stability and appearance of the liquid-like droplets. “As the rigidity of DNA molecules can be slightly tuned depending on its nucleotide sequence, we compared DNA molecules with the same change density, but different sequence,” explains John T. King. For example, single-stranded DNA with only T’s was able to form droplets more readily than single-stranded DNA with only A’s. The reason being that poly(T) is more flexible than poly(A). In concert, double-stranded DNA rich in A’s and T’s is known to be more rigid than a poly(GC) and required the addition of more salts to obtain droplets.

The team also demonstrated that adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which typically acts as a fuel source in cells, facilitates the formation of liquid-like droplets. Mixtures of poly-L-lysine and double-stranded DNA, which would typically precipitate at low salt concentrations, readily formed stable liquid-like droplets in presence of ATP.

This is a perfect platform to examine how the flexibility of nucleic acids affects liquid-liquid phase separation. “The most fascinating part is to imagine how cells may take advantage of this sequence-dependent information to guide and regulate liquid-liquid phase separation in vivo,” concludes Shakya.

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New technique to understand biology at the nanoscale: Applications include detecting infectiousness of HIV virus

New technique to understand biology at the nanoscale: Applications include detecting infectiousness of HIV virus

Washington State University researchers for the first time have shown that they can use electrical fields to gain valuable information about the tiny, floating vesicles that move around in animals and plants and are critically important to many biological functions.

The new technique could make it easier and less expensive for researchers to gain important information about many biological processes — from understanding the spread of infection in people to improving drug delivery techniques. Led by graduate student Adnan Morshed and Prashanta Dutta, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the work was published in Physical Review Fluids.

At the basis of much of biology are cells and, at even smaller scales, cell-like bubbles that float around in liquid doing critically important jobs. So, for instance, neurons communicate in our brain through vesicles that carry information and chemicals from one neuron to the next. The HIV virus is another tiny vesicle. Over time, the vesicle carrying HIV changes and becomes stiffer, which indicates that the virus is becoming more infectious.

But studying the properties of these tiny and critically important cellular sacs that travel through organisms in fluids has been difficult, especially when researchers get to the smallest floaters that are 40-100 nanometers in size. To study biological processes at tiny scales, the researchers use atomic force microscopes, which require removing the vesicles from their natural floating homes. The process is expensive, cumbersome, and slow. Furthermore, by taking them out of their natural settings, the biological materials also don’t necessarily exhibit their natural behavior, said Dutta.

The WSU research team has developed a system that uses a microfluidic-based system and electric fields to better understand vesicles. Similar to a grocery store checker who identifies products as they are passed over a scanner, the researchers apply electrical fields in a liquid as the vesicle passes through a narrow pore. Because of the electric field, the vesicle moves, deforms, or reacts differently depending on its chemical make-up. In the case of the HIV vesicles, for instance, the researchers should be able to see the electric field affect the stiffer, more infectious vesicle in a different way than a more flexible, less infectious vesicle. For drug delivery, the system could differentiate a vesicle that contains more or less of a drug — even if the two cells might look identical under a microscope.

“Our system is low-cost and high throughput,” said Dutta. “We can really scan hundreds of samples at a time.”

He added that they can change the speed of the process to allow researchers to more carefully observe property changes.

The researchers developed a model and tested it with synthetic liposomes, tiny sacs that are used for targeted drug delivery. They hope to begin testing the process soon with more realistic biological materials.

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Earth’s inner core is solid, ‘J waves’ suggest

Earth’s inner core is solid, ‘J waves’ suggest

A new study by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) could help us understand how our planet was formed.

Associate Professor Hrvoje Tkalčić and PhD Scholar Than-Son Phạm are confident they now have direct proof that Earth’s inner core is solid.

They came up with a way to detect shear waves, or “J waves” in the inner core — a type of wave which can only travel through solid objects.

“We found the inner core is indeed solid, but we also found that it’s softer than previously thought,” Associate Professor Tkalčić said.

“It turns out — if our results are correct — the inner core shares some similar elastic properties with gold and platinum. The inner core is like a time capsule, if we understand it we’ll understand how the planet was formed, and how it evolves.”

Inner core shear waves are so tiny and feeble they can’t be observed directly. In fact, detecting them has been considered the “Holy Grail” of global seismology since scientists first predicted the inner core was solid in the 1930s and 40s.

So the researchers had to come up with a creative approach.

Their so-called correlation wavefield method looks at the similarities between the signals at two receivers after a major earthquake, rather than the direct wave arrivals. A similar technique has been used by the same team to measure the thickness of the ice in Antarctica.

“We’re throwing away the first three hours of the seismogram and what we’re looking at is between three and 10 hours after a large earthquake happens. We want to get rid of the big signals,” Dr Tkalčic said.

“Using a global network of stations, we take every single receiver pair and every single large earthquake — that’s many combinations — and we measure the similarity between the seismograms. That’s called cross correlation, or the measure of similarity. From those similarities we construct a global correlogram — a sort of fingerprint of the Earth.”

The study shows these results can then be used to demonstrate the existence of J waves and infer the shear wave speed in the inner core.

While this specific information about shear waves is important, Dr Tkalčić says what this research tells us about the inner core is even more exciting.

“For instance we don’t know yet what the exact temperature of the inner core is, what the age of the inner core is, or how quickly it solidifies, but with these new advances in global seismology, we are slowly getting there.

“The understanding of the Earth’s inner core has direct consequences for the generation and maintenance of the geomagnetic field, and without that geomagnetic field there would be no life on the Earth’s surface.”

The research has been published in the journal Science.

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Artificial intelligence aids automatic monitoring of single molecules in cells

Artificial intelligence aids automatic monitoring of single molecules in cells

To understand the mechanisms by which molecules act in cells, or the effects of drugs on them, it would be ideal to be able to track individual molecules, including where in the cell they are located and what modifications they undergo when conditions in the cell change. However, this has proven difficult with existing technologies, particularly given the amount of time required to perform such monitoring.

A research team centered at Osaka University, in collaboration with RIKEN, has developed a system that can overcome these difficulties by automatically searching for, focusing on, imaging, and tracking single molecules within living cells. The team showed that this approach could analyze hundreds of thousands of single molecules in hundreds of cells in a short period, providing reliable data on the status and dynamics of molecules of interest.

For the development of this method, reported in the journal Nature Communications, the team used an artificial intelligence-based system, involving the training of neural networks to learn to focus correctly on a sample and to automatically search for cells, followed by the tracking of single fluorescently labeled molecules with a total internal reflection fluorescence microscope.

The team tested this system on a receptor protein called EGFR, which is more or less free to move along the plasma membrane in which it is expressed depending on whether it has undergone a certain modification. Their findings showed that the system could differentiate between modifying and nonmodifying conditions by tracking the movements of single receptors in membranes.

“We used the results obtained by our system to calculate pharmacological parameters, such as those reflecting the efficacy of drugs and the speed with which molecules diffuse away from their initial location,” corresponding author Masashiro Ueda from Osaka University says. “The findings matched the values obtained in earlier studies using traditional labor-intensive methods, supporting the value of this system.”

“A major benefit of this approach is that the effects of ligands and inhibitors on a target can be quantified at the single-molecule level,” adds Ueda. “The automation provided by this approach means that a large number of targets exposed to such molecules can be characterized at low cost, increasing the reliability of the results.”

As future work, the team hopes to apply this system to the monitoring of single molecules elsewhere in the cell, such as in the nucleus and organelles, using other optical microscopes. The system should also be applicable clinically for reliable genome-wide screening and for pharmacological testing.

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