Bienvenidos a Ciencia en Canoa, una iniciativa creada por
Vanessa Restrepo Schild.

lunes, 23 de febrero de 2015

Thompson Innovation: The ONE is here (IP Searching Tool)


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ORIGINAL: Thompson Reuteres Innovation

sábado, 21 de febrero de 2015

Mad Scientists at MIT Are Designing Chairs That Assemble Themselves

MIT

The last chair you purchased likely arrived fully assembled, but let’s be clear: It didn’t assemble itself. There’s only one chair in the world that can do that, and it’s way too small for you to sit on. This very special chair, standing upon a 15 cm by 15 cm footprint, is the work of Skylar Tibbits and his team at the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT.

You’ve seen Tibbits’ (and his researchers’) work before. This is the same lab that made these programmable materials and created this self-assembling aerial installation out of balloons. Crazy stuff. The lab’s most recent project, Fluid Assembly Furniture, is an investigation into how structures might be able to autonomously assemble in uncontrolled environments like water.

In the video you see six white blocks thrown into a tank. Turbulence shooting through the water jostles them around until eventually, after a good bit of random interaction, you see the pieces hook together to form a miniature chair.


Viewed in time lapse, it looks easy enough, but getting materials to self-assemble isn’t simple. Every variable—the size, weight and geometry of the individual pieces, the force of turbulence, the amount of water, etc.—impacts how efficiently the chair builds itself. In this rough prototype, the chair is made up of six components. Each is embedded with magnets and has an unique connection point that allows it to latch onto another piece. Think of it like a puzzle with the magnets acting as the attracting force. “At close proximity, each piece should easily connect with its corresponding component but never with another one,” explains Baily Zuniga, a student in the lab who led the research.

The way the pieces eventually find each other is mostly a result of trial and error—pieces floating next to each other until they find their perfect match. It’s hard to tell from the video, but it took seven hours for the chair to fully assemble itself. Not lightning fast, but an impressive starting point. “Finding a way to make the pieces more interchangeable would increase the probability of the pieces finding their matches,” says Zuniga. “Thus resulting in a faster assembly.

Faster is good, but there’s a delicate balance between randomness and control at play in self-assembly. Exert too much control over the system and you’ll be stuck with a one-trick object. Allow too much randomness, and you lose the ability to dictate the final form at all. “This project is somewhere in the middle,” says Athina Papadopoulou, a researcher in Tibbits’ lab. The chair project is more controlled than, say, the lab’s work on fluid crystallization, where 350 submerged spheres aggregate together without a formal shape. Still, there’s an element of not quite being able to govern what happens in the tank.

In some ways, this is a good thing. Flexibility will allow an object to adapt, which could be a useful trait in situations where underwater infrastructure needs to self-repair, for instance. But in the context of assembling furniture or some other pre-determined design, efficiency is important. Right now, the team is gathering quantitative data on the project to get a better understanding of why certain materials and shapes work better than others. Eventually, the team plans to make a self-assembling chair that’s large enough humans to sit in and show parallel assembly with hundreds of chairs coming together simultaneously, but hang tight Goldilocks—that’s gonna take a lot more research and a much bigger tank.



ORIGINAL: Wired
By Liz Stinson
02.16.15 |

jueves, 19 de febrero de 2015

Una colombiana lidera (equipo) en misión de la Nasa en Júpiter

Luz María Martínez aportará conocimientos para permitir la expedición a luna de ese planeta.
Foto: Archivo particular. Luz María Martínez, ingeniera física de la U. Eafit.

La ingeniera Luz María Martínez lidera un equipo de la Nasa cuya misión es modelar y simular el ambiente de Júpiter con precisión para garantizar el éxito de la futura expedición robótica a una de sus lunas, Europa.

Luz María Martínez, ingeniera física de la Universidad Eafit de Medellín, forma parte del Departamento de Ambientes Naturales Espaciales del Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) de la Nasa.

Allí se encarga de simular y determinar la radiación y los micrometeoritos que las naves espaciales encontrarán en las misiones estipuladas.

Como los niveles de radiación en Júpiter son muy altos, para mi grupo esta misión va a ser un gran reto. Necesitamos simular el ambiente de Júpiter lo mejor posible para garantizar que la misión sea un éxito, así que en este momento estamos muy involucrados con esto”, refiere la ingeniera.

Nosotros tenemos que garantizar que las naves espaciales sobrevivan en ambientes hostiles. Por ende, es relevante que los ingenieros que las diseñan y construyen conozcan todas las características del medio donde estas se desenvolverán”, añade en un comunicado publicado por la Universidad Eafit.

Martínez explica que usan diferentes códigos de transporte para llevar a cabo las simulaciones de las reacciones nucleares. Se simulan las partículas atómicas (electrones, protones y iones) o rayos-X (rayos gamma) que provienen del Sol o de la galaxia.

De esa forma logran describir la forma como un electrón con mucha energía cinética interactuará con, por ejemplo, un microchip.

Su grupo trabaja en la fase de prediseño de las misiones y naves espaciales, y hace parte de la Oficina de Seguridad y Éxito de las Misiones, es decir, el área encargada de calidad y control.

Para Martínez, formar parte de Nasa es un sueño hecho realidad: “No ha sido fácil llegar y aún me queda muchísimo por aprender. Pero es una satisfacción ir a trabajar cada día. Las labores no son rutinarias; cada jornada es diferente y supone un nuevo logro por alcanzar”, concluye. Martínez llegó a la Nasa este año.

ÉDGAR MEDINA
Tecnósfera
@EdgarMed

ORIGINAL: El Tiempo
19 de febrero de 2015

Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence: an Open Letter

Artificial intelligence (AI) research has explored a variety of problems and approaches since its inception, but for the last 20 years or so has been focused on the problems surrounding the construction of intelligent agents - systems that perceive and act in some environment. In this context, "intelligence" is related to statistical and economic notions of rationality - colloquially, the ability to make good decisions, plans, or inferences. The adoption of probabilistic and decision-theoretic representations and statistical learning methods has led to a large degree of integration and cross-fertilization among  
  • AI, 
  • machine learning, 
  • statistics, 
  • control theory, 
  • neuroscience, and 
  • other fields
The establishment of shared theoretical frameworks, combined with the availability of data and processing power, has yielded remarkable successes in various component tasks such as 
  • speech recognition, 
  • image classification, 
  • autonomous vehicles, 
  • machine translation, 
  • legged locomotion, and 
  • question-answering systems.
As capabilities in these areas and others cross the threshold from laboratory research to economically valuable technologies, a virtuous cycle takes hold whereby even small improvements in performance are worth large sums of money, prompting greater investments in research. There is now a broad consensus that AI research is progressing steadily, and that its impact on society is likely to increase. The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.


The progress in AI research makes it timely to focus research not only on making AI more capable, but also on maximizing the societal benefit of AI. Such considerations motivated the AAAI 2008-09 Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures and other projects on AI impacts, and constitute a significant expansion of the field of AI itself, which up to now has focused largely on techniques that are neutral with respect to purpose.
Attendees at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, February 21–22, 2009 (left to right): Michael Wellman, Eric Horvitz, David Parkes, Milind Tambe, David Waltz, Thomas Dietterich, Edwina Rissland (front), Sebastian Thrun, David McAllester, Magaret Boden, Sheila McIlraith, Tom Dean, Greg Cooper, Bart Selman, Manuela Veloso, Craig Boutilier, Diana Spears (front), Tom Mitchell, Andrew Ng.
We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do. The attached research priorities document gives many examples of such research directions that can help maximize the societal benefit of AI. This research is by necessity interdisciplinary, because it involves both society and AI. It ranges from
  • economics, 
  • law and 
  • philosophy to 
  • computer security, 
  • formal methods and, of course, 
  • various branches of AI itself.

In summary, we believe that research on how to make AI systems robust and beneficial is both important and timely, and that there are concrete research directions that can be pursued today.

List of signatories

ORIGINAL: Future Of Life Institute

Limpet teeth found to be strongest natural material


Scientists say structure of teeth could be reproduced in high-performance engineering to make Formula One cars, boats and planes

Limpets have a tongue or ‘radula’ covered in tiny teeth that scrape away at the rock surface. Photograph: University of Portsmouth
 

Scientists believe they may have found the strongest natural material known to man – the teeth of the humble limpet, which could be copied to make the cars, boats and planes of the future.

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth examined the mechanics of limpet teeth by pulling them apart all the way down to the level of the atom.

They found that the teeth of the snail-like creatures, common to shorelines and rock pools around the world, are potentially stronger than what was previously thought to be the strongest biological material – spider silk.

Scientists believe the structure could be reproduced in high-performance engineering, such as in racing cars and boat hulls.

Prof Asa Barber, who led the study, said: “Nature is a wonderful source of inspiration for structures that have excellent mechanical properties. All the things we observe around us, such as trees, the shells of sea creatures and the limpet teeth studied in this work, have evolved to be effective at what they do.

Until now, we thought that spider silk was the strongest biological material because of its super-strength and potential applications in everything from bulletproof vests to computer electronics, but now we have discovered that limpet teeth exhibit a strength that is potentially higher.

The study, published on Wednesday in the Royal Society’s scientific journal Interface, found the teeth contain a hard material known as goethite, which forms in the limpet as it grows.

Limpets need the high-strength teeth to rasp over rock surfaces and remove algae for feeding when the tide is in.

Barber said: “We discovered that the fibres of goethite are just the right size to make up a resilient composite structure. This discovery means that the fibrous structures found in limpet teeth could be mimicked and used in high-performance engineering applications such as Formula One racing cars, the hulls of boats and aircraft structures.

Engineers are always interested in making these structures stronger to improve their performance or lighter so they use less material.

Limpets’ teeth were also found to be the same strength, no matter what their size.

Barber added: “Generally, a big structure has lots of flaws and can break more easily than a smaller structure, which has fewer flaws and is stronger.

The problem is that most structures have to be fairly big, so they’re weaker than we would like. Limpet teeth break this rule as their strength is the same no matter what the size.

Examining effective designs in nature and then making structures based on these designs is known as bio-inspiration.

Barber said: “Biology is a great source of inspiration when designing new structures, but with so many biological structures to consider, it can take time to discover which may be useful.


ORIGINAL: The Guardian
18 February 2015

Scripps Florida Scientists Announce Anti-HIV Agent So Powerful It Can Work in a Vaccine

JUPITER, FL – February 18, 2015 – In a remarkable new advance against the virus that causes AIDS, scientists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have announced the creation of a novel drug candidate that is so potent and universally effective, it might work as part of an unconventional vaccine.

The research, which involved scientists from more than a dozen research institutions, was published February 18 online ahead of print by the prestigious journal Nature.

Michael Farzan. Michael Farzan Biosketch
The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI)
The study shows that the new drug candidate blocks every strain of HIV-1, HIV-2 and SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) that has been isolated from humans or rhesus macaques, including the hardest-to-stop variants. It also protects against much-higher doses of virus than occur in most human transmission and does so for at least eight months after injection.

Our compound is the broadest and most potent entry inhibitor described so far,” said Michael Farzan, a professor on TSRI's Florida campus who led the effort. “Unlike antibodies, which fail to neutralize a large fraction of HIV-1 strains, our protein has been effective against all strains tested, raising the possibility it could offer an effective HIV vaccine alternative.

Blocking a Second Site
When HIV infects a cell, it targets the CD4 lymphocyte, an integral part of the body’s immune system. HIV fuses with the cell and inserts its own genetic material—in this case, single-stranded RNA—and transforms the host cell into a HIV manufacturing site.

The new study builds on previous discoveries by the Farzan laboratory, which show that a co-receptor called CCR5 contains unusual modifications in its critical HIV-binding region, and that proteins based on this region can be used to prevent infection.

With this knowledge, Farzan and his team developed the new drug candidate so that it binds to two sites on the surface of the virus simultaneously, preventing entry of HIV into the host cell. “When antibodies try to mimic the receptor, they touch a lot of other parts of the viral envelope that HIV can change with ease,” said TSRI Research Associate Matthew Gardner, the first author of the study with Lisa M. Kattenhorn of Harvard Medical School. “We’ve developed a direct mimic of the receptors without providing many avenues that the virus can use to escape, so we catch every virus thus far.

The team also leveraged preexisting technology in designing a delivery vehicle—an engineered adeno-associated virus, a small, relatively innocuous virus that causes no disease. Once injected into muscle tissue, like HIV itself, the vehicle turns those cells into “factories” that could produce enough of the new protective protein to last for years, perhaps decades, Farzan said.

Data from the new study showed the drug candidate binds to the envelope of HIV-1 more potently than the best broadly neutralizing antibodies against the virus. Also, when macaque models were inoculated with the drug candidate, they were protected from multiple challenges by SIV.

This is the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of work on the biochemistry of how HIV enters cells,” Farzan said. “When we did our original work on CCR5, people thought it was interesting, but no one saw the therapeutic potential. That potential is starting to be realized.

In addition to Farzan, Gardner and Kattenhorn, authors of the study, “AAV-expressed eCD4-Ig provides durable protection from multiple SHIV challenges,” include Hema R. Kondur, Tatyana Dorfman, Charles C. Bailey, Christoph H. Fellinger, Vinita R. Josh and Brian D. Quinlanand of TSRI; Dennis R. Burton of TSRI, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and Ragon Institute; Pascal Poignard of IAVI’s Neutralizing Antibody Center at TSRI; Jessica J. Chiang, Michael D. Alpert, Annie Y. Yao and Ronald C. Desrosiers of Harvard Medical School; Kevin G. Haworth and Paula M. Cannon of the University of Southern California; Julie M. Decker and Beatrice H. Hahn of the University of Pennsylvania; Sebastian P. Fuchs and Jose M. Martinez-Navio of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Hugo Mouquet and Michel C. Nussenzweig of The Rockefeller University; Jason Gorman, Baoshan Zhang and Peter D. Kwong of the National Institutes of Health; Michael Piatak Jr. and Jeffrey D. Lifson of the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research; Guangping Gao of the University of Massachusetts Medical School; David T. Evans of the University of Wisconsin; and Michael S. Seaman of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants R01 AI091476, R01 AI080324, P01 AI100263, RR000168 and R01AI058715).

About The Scripps Research Institute The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs about 3,000 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

# # #

For information:
Office of Communications
Tel: 858-784-2666
Fax: 858-784-8136
press@scripps.edu

ORIGNAL: Scripps

Honey on Tap: A New Beehive that Automatically Extracts Honey without Disturbing Bees







The Flow Hive is a new beehive invention that promises to eliminate the more laborious aspects of collecting honey from a beehive with a novel spigot system that taps into specially designed honeycomb frames. Invented over the last decade by father and son beekeepers Stuart and Cedar Anderson, the system eliminates the traditional process of honey extraction where frames are removed from beehives, opened with hot knives, and loaded into a machine that uses centrifugal force to get the honey out. Here is how the Andersons explain their design:

The Flow frame consists of already partly formed honeycomb cells. The bees complete the comb with their wax, fill the cells with honey and cap the cells as usual. When you turn the tool, a bit like a tap, the cells split vertically inside the comb forming channels allowing the honey to flow down to a sealed trough at the base of the frame and out of the hive while the bees are practically undisturbed on the comb surface.


When the honey has finished draining you turn the tap again in the upper slot resets the comb into the original position and allows the bees to chew the wax capping away, and fill it with honey again.



It’s difficult to say how this might scale up for commercial operations, but for urban or backyard beekeeping it seems like a whole lot of fun. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine these on the roof of a restaurant where honey could be extracted daily, or for use by kids or others who might be more squeamish around live bees. You can see more on their website and over on Facebook.

ORIGINAL: Colossal
February 19, 2015

Editorial: Cerebros espantados


Es inexplicable que 'Es tiempo de volver' resultara truncado por causa de vericuetos burocráticos.

El conocimiento es uno de los más grandes haberes y valores de un país. Por eso hay que respaldar la iniciativa ‘Es tiempo de volver’, mediante la cual el Estado colombiano busca recuperar a los cerebros fugados, con raíces de formación universitaria en el país y que han completado su educación en instituciones de alto nivel académico, como universidades de la talla de Harvard, Stanford, Lille y Toulouse.

El aporte de estos colombianos, que hoy investigan, hacen ciencia e innovan en otras latitudes, sería invaluable para el desarrollo y el crecimiento del país. No en vano se dice que el progreso de una nación está fundado, esencialmente, en su capital humano formado.

Por eso resulta inexplicable y vergonzoso que una buena idea como esta, de cuya ejecución está a cargo el Departamento Administrativo de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (Colciencias), se ponga en riesgo, incluso antes de llevarse por completo a la práctica, por causa de vericuetos burocráticos y, lo que es peor, de la personal interpretación de algunos funcionarios de mando medio.

De los 140 doctores y posdoctores que creyeron en ‘Es tiempo de volver’, y que se postularon hace meses, cerca de la mitad se han estrellado contra una pared de evasivas, demoras y cambios en las condiciones, que ha obligado a algunos a desertar y tiene a muchos otros a punto de hacerlo. Lo más grave es que todos ellos han desistido de las carreras, proyectos y trabajos que tenían por fuera, seducidos por la idea de venir a hacer ciencia en Colombia.

También es reprochable la actitud irrespetuosa que funcionarios de Colciencias asumieron ante las inquietudes planteadas por los beneficiarios de este programa respecto a cambios en los salarios, el acompañamiento en la repatriación y los beneficios tributarios que inicialmente les ofrecieron.

Nadie dice que merezcan un tratamiento especialísimo por su condición académica, pero sí decente. Que un empleado de Colciencias justifique la falta de claridad y las dilaciones del programa con un “no están en Disneylandia, tienen que adaptarse a la realidad de Colombia” es inadmisible, sobre todo en un país donde la ciencia nativa prácticamente no existe.

Al revisar en detalle los ofrecimientos de la iniciativa, queda claro que las condiciones planteadas al comienzo no eran exageradas ni ponían en riesgo el situado fiscal del país; era lo mínimo para sostenerse en Colombia. A cambio, ellos aceptan la misión de compartir el bagaje y el conocimiento adquiridos. Sumados los de todos, valga decirlo, eso se traduce en años de experiencia vitales para la formación de los anhelados semilleros de ciencia en el país.

Con todos estos argumentos, no hay excusa para que Colciencias no agilice estos procesos ni se comprometa con la ejecución exitosa de este ambicioso programa, lanzado con gran entusiasmo en marzo del año pasado y al que se destinaron 17.000 millones de pesos.

Ni la ciencia ni sus gestores brotan de la tierra, sino que son fruto del esfuerzo consciente de los Estados por cultivarlos. El peor camino es optar por esperar a que de vez en cuando aparezca un investigador cuyo esfuerzo individual le sirva al país para sacar pecho, y ocultar lo que no se ha hecho en este campo.


EDITORIAL
editorial@eltiempo.com
@OpinionET

ORIGINAL: El Tiempo
Por: EDITORIAL
17 de febrero de 2015

Nobel Laureate’s stem cell company Cell Therapy Limited sets new crowdfunding record raising £691,000 on Crowdcube

UK biotech company Cell Therapy Limited (Cell Therapy) has raised over £691,000 on Crowdcube to fund its breakthrough stem cell medicine, Heartcel™, which regenerates heart muscle to treat heart failure.


Cell Therapy founder and Nobel Laureate Prof. Sir Martin Evans has been appointed President with Lord Digby Jones appointed Chairman, and Mark L W Hughes, BSc, MBA and FCA, as Chief Financial Officer.

The Crowdcube funding was raised from more than 300 investors, and is 277% of the company’s original target. The sum was achieved in just 10 days, generating an imputed valuation of £75m, a UK record for crowdfunding and a world record for biotech crowdfunding.

Heartcel™ – which is administered as a simple injection by a cardiac surgeon – successfully completed clinical trials in 2014, and is scheduled to launch commercially in 2016.

Cell Therapy was co-founded in 2009 by Professor Sir Martin Evans, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for his pioneering work in discovering stem cells, and CEO Ajan Reginald, former Global Head of Emerging Technologies at Roche Pharma. Sir Martin as President and Chief Scientific Officer leads the team of scientists who discovered and developed the medicine.

Lord Digby Jones, former UK Minister of Trade and Industry, joined the company as an investor and adviser in 2014. Lord Jones is also Chairman of Triumph Motorcycles, and serves as a senior adviser to BP, JCB and Jaguar Land Rover.

Mark L W Hughes, Chief Financial Officer, has over 20 years’ experience of financial leadership of AIM and main market listed technology companies. Most recently, Hughes worked for Mediawatch plc, an AIM listed international biotechnology and diagnostics company. Previous roles include CFO and senior finance roles of main market companies.

Ajan Reginald, CEO of Cell Therapy, commented on the crowdfunding: “Regenerative medicines like Heartcel have the potential to revolutionise medicine for everyone, so crowdfunding was the perfect way to offer the widest possible access to invest in Cell Therapy.

We are delighted with the appointments of Digby as Chairman and Mark as Chief Financial Officer – their experience complements Cell Therapy’s world-class scientific and pharmaceutical leadership team and enables us to accelerate the company’s development.

Heart failure affects 20 million people in the US, Europe and Asia, and the pharmaceutical market for treatments is worth US$10bn. The investment raised by Cell Therapy through Crowdcube will be used for the development and manufacture of Heartcel™.

Luke Lang, co-founder of Crowdcube, said: “It’s exciting to see crowdfunding investors backing a sophisticated British Biotech company like Cell Therapy. The appetite to invest in businesses that address highly complex problems is increasing across alternative finance platforms.

Heartcel™ is unique in its ability to regenerate damaged heart tissue. When scarring of the heart muscle caused by heart attack or heart failure is not treated, the heart deteriorates further, often resulting in death within 10 years and in severe heart failure often within 2 years. Heartcel™ encompasses a new stem cell therapy that regenerates the heart – potentially reducing scarring to improve heart function and quality of life and, ultimately, reducing mortality rates.


ORIGINAL: Drug Target Review
9 February 2015 • 
Source: Cell Therapy Ltd

martes, 17 de febrero de 2015

A DNA hard drive has been built that can store data for 1 MILLION years



Scientists have found a way to preserve the world's data for millions of years, by storing it on a tiny strand of DNA preserved in glass.
When you think of humanity’s legacy, the most powerful message for us to leave behind for future civilisations would surely be our billions of terabytes of data. But right now the hard drives and discs that we use to store all this information are frustratingly vulnerable, and unlikely to survive more than a couple of hundred years.

Fortunately scientists have built a DNA time capsule that's capable of safely preserving all of our data for more than a million years. And we’re kind of freaking out over how huge the implications are.

Researchers already knew that DNA was ideal for data storage. In theory, just 1 gram of DNA is capable of holding 455 exabytes, which is the equivalent of one billion gigabytes, and more than enough space to store all of Google, Facebook and pretty much everyone else's data.

Storing information on DNA is also surprisingly simple - researchers just need to program the A and C base pairs of DNA as a binary '0', and the T and G as a '1'. But the researchers, led by Robert Grass from ETH Zürich in Switzerland, wanted to find out just how long this data would last.

DNA can definitely be durable - in 2013 scientists managed to sequence genetic code from 700,000-year-old horse bones - but it has to be preserved in pretty specific conditions, otherwise it can change and break down as it's exposed to the environment. So Glass's team decided to try to replicate a fossil, to see if it would help them create a long-lasting DNA hard drive.

"Similar to these bones, we wanted to protect the information-bearing DNA with a synthetic 'fossil' shell," explained Grass in a press release.

In order to do that, the team encoded Switzerland’s Federal Charter of 1921 and The Methods of Mechanical Theorems by Archimedes onto a DNA strand - a total of 83 kilobytes of data. They then encapsulated the DNA into tiny glass spheres, which were around 150 nanometres in diameter.

The researchers compared these glass spheres against other packaging methods by exposing them to temperatures of between 60 and 70 degrees Celsius - conditions that replicated the chemical degradation that would usually occur over hundreds of years, all crammed into a few destructive weeks.

They found that even after this sped-up degradation process, the DNA inside the glass spheres could easily be extracted using a fluoride solution, and the data on it could still be read. In fact, these glass casings seem to work much like fossilised bones.

Based on their results, which have been published in Angewandte Chemie, the team predicts that data stored on DNA could survive over a million years if it was stored in temperatures below -18 degrees Celsius, for example, in a facility like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is also known as the ‘Doomsday Vault’. They say it could last 2,000 years if stored somewhere less secure at 10 degrees Celsius - a similar average temperature to central Europe.

The tricky part of this whole process is that the data stored in DNA needs to be read properly in order for future civilisations to be able to access it. And despite advances in sequencing technology, errors still arise from DNA sequencing.

The team overcame this by embedding a method for correcting any errors within the glass spheres, based on the Reed-Solomon Codes, which help researchers transmit data over long distances. Basically, additional information is attached to the actual data, to help people read it on the other end.

This worked so well that even after the test DNA had been kept in scorching and degrading conditions for a month, the team could still read Switzerland’s Federal Charter and Archimedes’ wise words at the end of the study.

The other major problem, which is not so easy to overcome, is the fact that storing information on DNA is still extremely expensive - it cost around US$1,500 just to encode the 83 kilobytes of data used in this study. Hopefully this cost will go down as we get better at writing information onto DNA. Researchers out there are already storing books onto DNA, and the band OK Go are also writing their new album into genetic information.

The question is, what would Grass store, now that he’s developed this mind-blowing time capsule? The documents in Unesco’s Memory of the World Programme, and… Wikipedia, he says.

Many entries are described in detail, others less so. This probably provides a good overview of what our society knows, what occupies it and to what extent,” said Grass in the release.

It’s ridiculously cool to think that even if we do wipe ourselves off the face of the Earth, our civilisation might still live on for millennia to come in the form of Wikipedia pages and Facebook updates.

We really are (almost) infinite.

Source: New Scientist


ORIGINAL: Science Alert
FIONA MACDONALD 
17 FEB 2015