2020-07-01 00:00:00 ..
2020-11-23 01:37:00 UTC --Fnord666
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In the next two days, the lander will collect about two kilograms of lunar samples.
The Chang'e-5 probe includes a lander, ascender, orbiter, and returner. After the spacecraft entered the circular lunar orbit 200 kilometers above the moon, the lander-and-ascender pair split, descended, and landed at the planned area on the moon.
The lander will shovel some surface material and also drill a two-meter-deep hole and scoop up the soil from inside it, which will act like an archive of the moon, with the bottom recording information from a billion years ago and the top more closely reflecting the present day.
The samples will then be stored in the ascender, which will lift off from the lunar surface to transfer the moon samples to the returner and orbiter waiting in the lunar orbit. The unmanned rendezvous and docking in the lunar orbit will also be the first such task conducted by China.
Then, at a proper time, the returner will separate from the orbiter and carry the samples back to Earth, which will finally land in North China's Inner Mongolia.
Leaked documents from China show the country mishandled the early COVID-19 pandemic through misleading public data and three-week delays in test results, CNN reported Monday.
A whistleblower, who worked in the Chinese health care system, provided 117 pages of internal documents from the Hubei Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to CNN.
The files, which CNN had verified by six experts, showed how the region struggled to manage the coronavirus between October 2019 and April 2020 – a critical time period in which the virus spread from China to cause a worldwide pandemic.
[2020-12-01 23:22:03 UTC; Ed. update follows.]
The referenced CNN article is nearly 5,000 words long. In addition there are numerous graphs and graphics. I strongly encourage the community to read the entire article before drawing any conclusions or making comments. Here are some excerpts taken from near the end of the article:
It is not clear to what extent the central government was aware of the actions taking place in Hubei at that time, or how much information was being shared and with whom. The documents offer no indication that authorities in Beijing were directing the local decision-making process. However, Mertha, the JHU academic, said the mismatch between the higher internal and lower public figures on the February death toll "appeared to be a deception, for unsurprising reasons."
"China had an image to protect internationally, and lower-ranking officials had a clear incentive to under-report -- or to show their superiors that they were under-reporting -- to outside eyes," he said.
Conversely, however, the leaked documents also provide something of a defense of China's overall handling of the virus. The reports show that in the early stages of the pandemic, China faced the same problems of accounting, testing, and diagnosis that still haunt many Western democracies even now -- issues compounded by Hubei encountering an entirely new virus.
[...] China and its healthcare workers were under immense strain as the outbreak took hold, said Yang, from the Council of Foreign Relations.
"They had a massive run on the medical system. They were overwhelmed. There was truly despair among medical professionals by the end of January, because they were extremely overworked and they were also enormously discouraged by the high number of deaths that were occurring with a disease they had not treated previously," he added.
Hubei, which lags far behind Beijing, Shanghai and other major Chinese administrative divisions in terms of GDP per capita, was the first region to confront a virus that would go on to confound many of the world's most powerful countries.
Schaffner, from Vanderbilt University, said many of the comments in the documents might have been made in the US, "where, over the past 15 to 20 years, at particularly the state and the local level, public health funding has become constrained."
The documents show health care officials had no comprehension as to the magnitude of the impending disaster.
[...] Tuesday marks exactly 12 months since the first patient in Wuhan started showing symptoms, according to the Lancet study.
Lastly, there are likely to be strong feelings about the situation; I strongly encourage folk to try and keep things civil. Let one's anger be directed at the disease; not at fellow Soylentils. We are all struggling to various degrees to make sense of these highly disturbed circumstances. Please wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, and maintain proper handwashing practices. I can attest these practices help; I live in a state with one of the lowest rates of infection and death in the US. Even with that, I have a friend who was hospitalized for a couple weeks with COVID-19 and of a cuople more acquaintances who have lost loved ones to this pandemic. There are the occasional exceptions, and I know people are growing tired and just want things to go back to normal. It is all the more important to do what we can to reduce the spread of this disease. --martyb
The renowned Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico, closed because of damage, completely collapsed Tuesday morning.
"Friends, it is with deep regret to inform you that the Arecibo Observatory platform has just collapsed," tweeted Deborah Martorell, a senior meteorologist for WAPA-TV and El Nuevo Dia in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Martorell, who was at the observatory on Monday, received a call from a scientist at the site Tuesday saying the giant reflector dish and the Gregorian Dome that held instruments above it had both collapsed, El Nuevo Dia reported.
The Associated Press also reported the collapse and said many scientists and Puerto Ricans mourned the news, with some tearing up during interviews.
As reported by ZDNet:
A decade ago, an idea was born in a laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley to create a lingua franca for computer chips, a set of instructions that would be used by all chipmakers and owned by none.
It wasn't supposed to be an impressive new technology, it was merely supposed to get the industry on the same page, to simplify chip-making in order to move things forward.
But a funny thing has happened on the way to a global chip standard: RISC-V, as the Berkeley effort is known, has begun to produce some technical breakthroughs in chip design.
As just one example, a recent microprocessor design using RISC-V has a clock speed of 5 gigahertz, well above a recent, top-of-the-line Intel Xeon server chip, E7, running at 3.2 gigahertz. Yet the novel RISC-V chip burns just 1 watt of power at 1.1 volts, less than one percent of the power burned by the Intel Xeon.
[...] The new 5-gigahertz processor, which is merely a prototype, is not the creation of a garage startup. It was made by Micro Magic Inc., a Silicon Valley intellectual property designer for chips that has been consulting to all the big Valley firms for twenty-five years. The ability of a small but seasoned crew of chip designers to accomplish such a task suggests a design renaissance that could be on the horizon.
MOXIE—the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment—is a box not much bigger than a toaster that produces oxygen from atmospheric CO2. While a much larger version would be required to make liquid-oxygen fuel for a rocket, MOXIE is sized to produce about the amount of oxygen an active person needs to breathe.
A new study led by Pralay Gayen at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, tests a device that could tap a different resource—perchlorate brine believed to exist in the Martian ground at some locations. The device can split the water in that brine, producing pure oxygen and hydrogen.
[...] To test whether we could tap this resource, the researchers built an electrolysis device that they ran in Mars-like conditions. It uses a standard platinum-carbon cathode and a special lead-ruthenium-oxygen anode the researchers developed previously. They mixed up a plausible concentration of magnesium perchlorate brine and filled the headspace in that container with pure CO2 for a Mars-like atmosphere. The whole thing was kept at -36°C (-33°F). When powered up, brine flowed through the device, splitting into pure oxygen gas captured on the anode side and pure hydrogen gas on the cathode side.
The device worked quite well, producing about 25 times as much oxygen as its MOXIE counterpart can manage. MOXIE requires about 300 watts of power to run, and this device matches that oxygen output on about 12 watts. Plus, it also produces hydrogen that could be used in a fuel cell to generate electricity. And it would be smaller and lighter than MOXIE, the researchers say. Ultimately, all this just illustrates that MOXIE is working with a lower quality—but more widely accessible—resource in atmospheric CO2 instead of water.
Also at The Conversation.
Moxie is a brand of carbonated beverage that is among the first mass-produced soft drinks in the United States. It was created around 1876 by Augustin Thompson (born in Union, Maine) as a patent medicine called "Moxie Nerve Food" and was produced in Lowell, Massachusetts. Moxie's flavor is unique, a sweet drink with a bitter aftertaste. Moxie is flavored with gentian root extract, an extremely bitter substance commonly used in herbal medicine.
[...] The name has become the word "moxie" in American English, a noun meaning courage, daring, or determination.
Pralay Gayen, Shrihari Sankarasubramanian, Vijay K. Ramani. Fuel and oxygen harvesting from Martian regolithic brine [$], Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2008613117)
Found in the outer two layers of gray matter near the back of the spinal cord -- a location referred to as the superficial laminae of the spinal dorsal horn -- the astrocytes are in a region known to carry general sensory information such as pressure, pain, and heat from around the body to the brain.
[...] Using mice, the researchers showed that stimulating noradrenergic (NAergic) neurons -- so called for their use of noradrenaline as a neurotransmitter -- that carry signals from the locus coeruleus (LC) in the brain down to the spinal dorsal horn activates the astrocytes and that the astrocyte activation results in pain hypersensitivity.
These observations overturn the prevailing view that descending LC-NAergic neurons suppress pain transmission in the spinal dorsal horn.
[...] To initially test this, the researchers genetically engineered mice in which response of astrocytes to noradrenaline was selectively inhibited and gave them duloxetine, an analgesic drug thought to increase levels of noradrenaline in the spinal cord by preventing uptake by descending LC-NAergic neurons.
Indeed, the modified mice exhibited an enhanced easing of chronic pain by duloxetine, further supporting the researchers' proposed role of the astrocytes.
[*] Glial cells.
Yuta Kohro, Tsuyoshi Matsuda, Kohei Yoshihara, et al. Spinal astrocytes in superficial laminae gate brainstem descending control of mechanosensory hypersensitivity, Nature Neuroscience (DOI: 10.1038/s41593-020-00713-4)
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disorder in which the nerve cells (neurons) in a person's brain and the connections among them degenerate slowly, causing severe memory loss, intellectual deficiencies, and deterioration in motor skills and communication. One of the main causes of Alzheimer's is the accumulation of a protein called amyloid β (Aβ) in clusters around neurons in the brain, which hampers their activity and triggers their degeneration.
[...] a team of scientists from Japan, led by Professor Akiyoshi Saitoh from the Tokyo University of Science, has looked at oxytocin, a hormone conventionally known for its role in the female reproductive system and in inducing the feelings of love and well-being. "Oxytocin was recently found to be involved in regulating learning and memory performance, but so far, no previous study deals with the effect of oxytocin on Aβ-induced cognitive impairment," Prof Saitoh says.
[...] Prof Saitoh and team first perfused slices of the mouse hippocampus with Aβ to confirm that Aβ causes the signaling abilities of neurons in the slices to decline or—in other words—impairs their synaptic plasticity. Upon additional perfusion with oxytocin, however, the signaling abilities increased, suggesting that oxytocin can reverse the impairment of synaptic plasticity that Aβ causes.
To find out how oxytocin achieves this, they conducted a further series of experiments. In a normal brain, oxytocin acts by binding with special structures in the membranes of brain cells, called oxytocin receptors. The scientists artificially 'blocked' these receptors in the mouse hippocampus slices to see if oxytocin could reverse Aβ-induced impairment of synaptic plasticity without binding to these receptors. Expectedly, when the receptors were blocked, oxytocin could not reverse the effect of Aβ, which shows that these receptors are essential for oxytocin to act.
Junpei Takahashi, et al. Oxytocin reverses Aβ-induced impairment of hippocampal synaptic plasticity in mice, Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2020.04.046
Small reptiles such as geckos and skinks are well known for this remarkable ability to sacrifice and then rapidly regrow their tails. Now, to scientists' surprise, it turns out that much larger alligators can regrow theirs too. But only while they're young.
Juvenile American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) can regrow up to 18 percent of their total body length back. This is about 23 cm or 9 inches of length.
What's really cool is this regrowth appears to occur via a mechanism we've not seen before.
By imaging and dissecting the tail regrowth, researchers from Arizona State University (ASU) found alligators do this quite differently from the other animals we know that can regenerate their appendages.
[...] As far as regrowing body parts goes, amphibious axolotls are the champions of regeneration amongst land animals with internal skeletons.
If injured, they can reform a segmented skeleton, complete with muscles that differ along their height - distinguishing top from bottom.
[...] Alligators, it seems, don't even bother re-growing muscles at all.
"Clearly there is a high cost to producing new muscle," said ASU animal physiologist Jeanne Wilson-Rawls.
1.) James I. Barr, Catherine A. Boisvert, Ruchira Somaweera, et al. Re-regeneration to reduce negative effects associated with tail loss in lizards [open], Scientific Reports (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-55231-6)
2.) Cindy Xu, Joanna Palade, Rebecca E. Fisher, et al. Anatomical and histological analyses reveal that tail repair is coupled with regrowth in wild-caught, juvenile American alligators ( Alligator mississippiensis ) [open], Scientific Reports (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-77052-8)
Submitted via IRC for Runaway1956
Chemical compounds in foods or beverages like green tea, muscadine grapes and dark chocolate can bind to and block the function of a particular enzyme, or protease, in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to a new study by plant biologists at North Carolina State University.
[...] In the study, the NC State researchers performed both computer simulations and lab studies showing how the so-called "main protease" (Mpro) in the SARS-CoV-2 virus reacted when confronted with a number of different plant chemical compounds already known for their potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
[...] Computer simulations showed that the studied chemical compounds from green tea, two varieties of muscadine grapes, cacao powder and dark chocolate were able to bind to different portions of Mpro.
"Mpro has a portion that is like a 'pocket' that was 'filled' by the chemical compounds," Xie said. "When this pocket was filled, the protease lost its important function."
Yue Zhu, De-Yu Xie. Docking Characterization and in vitro Inhibitory Activity of Flavan-3-ols and Dimeric Proanthocyanidins Against the Main Protease Activity of SARS-Cov-2, Frontiers in Plant Science (DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2020.601316)
DeepMind's program, called AlphaFold, outperformed around 100 other teams in a biennial protein-structure prediction challenge called CASP, short for Critical Assessment of Structure Prediction. The results were announced on 30 November, at the start of the conference — held virtually this year — that takes stock of the exercise.
John Moult of the University of Maryland in College Park (founder of this conference) says: "In some sense the problem is solved."
Many Caveats: This seems unusually breathless for Nature and this is a very hard problem that's been worked on for decades. Having worked in a group studying the protein folding problem back in the 80s, I've learned to be pretty skeptical of miracles in this over the years. That said if it is accurate that this works well enough to provide clues to x-ray diffraction determination of structure in hard cases, that alone makes it very worthwhile. If it works well in truly de novo cases without other information like x-ray diffraction or nuclear magnetic resonance then it would be just as revolutionary as the article says.
If it works, the solution has come "decades" before it was expected, according to experts, and could have transformative effects in the way diseases are treated.
There are 200 million known proteins at present but only a fraction have actually been unfolded to fully understand what they do and how they work. Even those that have been successfully understood often rely on expensive and time-intensive techniques, with scientists spending years unfolding each structure and relying on equipment that can cost many millions of dollars.
DeepMind worked on the AI project with the 14th Community Wide Experiment on the Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction (CASP14), a group of scientists who have been looking into the matter since 1994.
Go, Chess, COVID...
With pandemic stress-eating colliding with holiday feasts last week, many of us may be eyeing some healthy salads in the coming days. But if there's one constant we can rely upon in this year of upheaval—it's the enduring possibility that our leafy greens may be laced with poopy bacteria.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently has three open investigations on Escherichia coli outbreaks—two directly linked to leafy greens and the other involving a bacterial strain that caused an outbreak in 2018 linked to romaine lettuce.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai will step down from his post on January 20, the day President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated, he announced Monday.
The announcement means that the FCC could reach a Democratic majority sooner than it would otherwise be able to. Pai's term was slated to expire in June 2021, though Biden will be able to choose a Democrat to chair the commission once in office. Commissioners must be confirmed by the Senate.
[...] Pai's decision to step down could have significant implications on net neutrality, an issue that helped define his term as chairman. In 2017, Pai voted with his fellow Republican commissioners to remove rules that prohibited internet providers from from blocking or slowing traffic to particular sites and offering higher speed "lanes" at higher prices. Many major internet providers have not yet taken advantage of that rule change, however.
Also at 9to5Mac.
Paleontologists are lucky to find complete sets of fossilized bones. Sometimes, they get even luckier, finding preserved impressions of delicate features like feathers. Beyond those clues, though, most of the biology of extinct species—their DNA, internal organs, and unique chemistry—has been totally destroyed by the many millions of years that separate us. Except, what if it hasn't? Some scientists now claim they can tease much more complex biological information out of apparently mundane fossils, including things that most paleontologists don't expect to survive over millions of years, such as skin and eggshell.
Molecular paleobiologist Jasmina Wiemann has been on the forefront of this exciting research since 2018, co-authoring papers that reveal elements of fossils that cannot be immediately seen with our eyes but can be detected through a series of complex chemical and statistical analyses. Her recent paper, published this summer with Jason Crawford and Derek Briggs, builds upon other, similar research from the past two years. She and her co-authors claim they can determine the chemical signatures of skin, bone, teeth, and eggshell. Even better, they can train anyone else in the field within approximately 20 minutes to find these ancient traces using their techniques. It's an opportunity they hope will be widely used within museum collections the world over.
Consider that most museums only display a small percentage of the fossils they have in their collection. Those fossils chosen for display are either partially complete skeletons or fossils that are readily recognizable to the general public. What remains in many collections' storage rooms are shelves upon shelves of the rest: the less-flashy fossils that nonetheless offer insight into ancient life. What if they all could be tested for hidden biomarkers? Fossilized dinosaur cells, blood vessel, and bone matrix.
[...] In other words, rather than search for a specific molecule on one particular fossil, they wanted to determine what molecules—if any—were on the sample set of fossils they explored. What they consistently discovered was that traces of certain ancient molecules survived, chemically altered but still distinct. The team could identify different types of molecular fossils, and they could interpret their biological meaning.
[...] Wiemann brings a different perspective to paleontology. At the age of 15, she won a scholarship in Germany to study chemistry, which enabled her to complete degrees in geosciences and evolutionary biology before attending Yale University, where she is currently a PhD candidate. In the past two years, she has discovered egg color in dinosaurs, contributed to research offering further evidence that the Tully Monster (Tullimonstrum) is a vertebrate, and helped reveal evidence that soft-shelled eggs evolved in dinosaurs before calcified eggshells. Translating the ancient chemical properties associated with those fossils was her role. As she explained, "I develop molecular proxies for all kinds of evolutionary topics to unlock information otherwise inaccessible to paleontologists."
1.) Victoria E. McCoy, Jasmina Wiemann, James C. Lamsdell, et al. Chemical signatures of soft tissues distinguish between vertebrates and invertebrates from the Carboniferous Mazon Creek Lagerstätte of Illinois, Geobiology (DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12397)
2.) Aude Cincotta, Thanh Thuy Nguyen Tu, Julien L. Colaux, et al. Chemical preservation of tail feathers from Anchiornis huxleyi, a theropod dinosaur from the Tiaojishan Formation (Upper Jurassic, China), Palaeontology (DOI: 10.1111/pala.12494)
OneWeb has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy under new ownership and says it will begin launching more broadband satellites next month. Similar to SpaceX Starlink, OneWeb is building a network of low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites that can provide high-speed broadband with much lower latencies than traditional geostationary satellites.
After a launch in December, "launches will continue throughout 2021 and 2022, and OneWeb is now on track to begin commercial connectivity services to the UK and the Arctic region in late 2021 and will expand to delivering global services in 2022," OneWeb said in an announcement Friday.
[...] OneWeb previously launched 74 satellites into low-Earth orbits and said it plans a launch of 36 more satellites on December 17, 2020. The Friday announcement also said OneWeb plans "a constellation of 650 LEO satellites," but that could be just the beginning. OneWeb in August secured US approval for 1,280 satellites in medium Earth orbits, bringing its total authorization to 2,000 satellites.
Previously: SpaceX Approved to Deploy 1 Million U.S. Starlink Terminals; OneWeb Reportedly Considers Bankruptcy
OneWeb Goes Bankrupt, Lays Off Staff, Will Sell Satellite-Broadband Business
OneWeb Seeks Permission to Launch 48,000 Satellites Despite Bankruptcy
UK Government and Indian Mobile Operator Acquire OneWeb and its Broadband Satellites
Microsoft is creating a new security chip that's designed to protect future Windows PCs. Microsoft Pluton is a security processor that is built directly into future CPUs and will replace the existing Trusted Platform Module (TPM), a chip that's currently used to secure hardware and cryptographic keys. Pluton is based on the same security technologies used to protect Xbox consoles, and Microsoft is working with Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm to combine it into future CPUs.
[...] Just like you can't easily hack into an Xbox One to run pirated games, the hope is that it will be a lot more difficult to physically hack into a Windows PC in the future by integrating Pluton into the CPU.
Microsoft promises Pluton will make it easier to keep system firmware up to date, for example, in cases when TPM firmware for separate security processors is required.
In Intel's case, the Pluton processor will ship with future chips but will be isolated from their cores. However, at present there's no precise timeline for the appearance of the first Intel chips containing the Pluton security processor.
Pluton will be integrated with the Windows Update process on Windows 10 PCs, according to Microsoft. The chip is an up-dateable platform for running firmware that implements end-to-end security that is authored, maintained, and updated by Microsoft.
The firmware updates will follow the same process that the Azure Sphere Security Service uses to connect to IoT devices.
What the Pluton project from Microsoft and the agreement between AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm will do is build a TPM-equivalent directly into the silicon of every Windows-based PC of the future. The Pluton architecture will, initially, build an emulated TPM to work with existing specifications for access to the current suites of security protocols in place. Because Pluton will be in-silicon, it severely reduces the physical attack surface of any Pluton-enabled device.
Also at TechCrunch.