In a rare display of forethought, a congress in the United States (not THE Congress, but the Nevada state congress) has authorized the Department of Transportation to develop rules and regulations governing the use of driverless cars. This is a significant and necessary step to making the self-driving cars, like the one Google is developing, street legal. It will also encourage innovation, as the automotive industry will see that the government is willing to work with them to make the technology a reality.
Truck surfing, by the way, is real and is not legal.
With all the automatic stuff cars do nowadays anyway, it’s good to see the government welcoming their new robot overlords with open arms and accommodating legislation.
Story from Forbes. You can read the full text of the legislation here.
People playing a game called Foldit helped science figure out the protein structure of an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys. That might not sound like a big deal (or make much sense), but it will help scientists develop a cure for said AIDS-like virus.
Proteins are the basic building block of pretty much anything in biology. Piecing proteins together makes the sub-structures inside each living cell. If you can figure out how proteins are built and work, then you can figure out how the cell is built and works, and possibly change it. The only problem is it’s really difficult even for supercomputers to figure out how proteins are made. Enter Foldit, a game that lets humans take a crack at deciphering protein structure. The closer they are to the right answer, the higher their score is. People can talk about solutions and even take up where other people left off. It’s molecular biology’s method of “Ask the Audience” like in the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The solution with the highest score is analyzed by capital-S Scientists and refined until you get the structure that is seen in actual nature.
A specific protein that works in the monkey AIDS virus has stumped science for over a decade. From MSNBC:
Fortunately, the challenge fit the current capabilities of the Foldit game, so Khatib and his colleagues put the puzzle out there for Foldit’s teams to work on. “This was really kind of a last-ditch effort,” he recalled. “Can the Foldit players really solve it?”
They could. “They actually did it in less than 10 days,” Khatib said.
Science just got pwnt. ggz, scientists.
You can download and play Foldit here.
Rinderpest has become the second disease eradicated by humans (the first being smallpox) and, unsurprisingly, it has hardly hit the news. Probably because it only infects cattle, but infects so well that it starved to death 1/3 of Ethiopia in the late 1800s. Hell, I only caught wind of it by accident because I read the Wiki article on smallpox. From the Washington Post:
William R. White, a rinderpest expert at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said: “The suffering that this disease has caused through the millennia is incredible. This is probably the greatest achievement in veterinary medicine.”
Hey, it’s no debt ceiling debate, so it gets page 2.
In an unending effort to merge man with machine (no doubt to catastrophic consequences), scientists have linked olfactory sense proteins with nanotube transistors. What does that mean? We can turn smells into electrical signals. That sounds really lame, but it’s a first step to linking circuits with every kind of sense input the human body has. Oh, and apparently its useful for studying diseases. Or whatever.
Finding out the type of drugs that can effectively bind with GPCRs is vital, as pathogens frequently attack via these receptors. The attachment of a harmless chemical with the corresponding GPCR will increase the chance of blocking the disease.
Scientist (and most likely nighttime supervillain) Dr. Vile (seriously) may have cured cancer. He has, at least, in mice. Like any self-respecting supervillain would, he used the ol’ bait-and-switch technique. On the mice’s immune systems.
Sometimes an immune system doesn’t go after a cancer because it doesn’t know it’s there. So in order to get the attention of the immune system, Dr. Vile (I’m gonna use it whenever possible, it’s just too fucking cool a name) put the DNA of tumorous prostate tissue into a virus that the mice’s immune systems recognize and injected that virus into mice. Once their systems picked up on the virus carrying tumor DNA, the immune system made cells to attack anything that looked like the virus, which included the tumors. It’s the genetic equivalent of racial profiling, really.
From ScienceDaily (via io9):
All infections, allergens and tissues, including tumors, have a unique fingerprint called an antigen — a molecular protein tag that triggers a response from the body’s immune system. Dr. Vile deployed the human vaccine prostate cancer antigens through the mutated VSV vector to raise a full-on assault from the mice’s T-cells. After exposure to the mutated viruses, the animals’ immune systems recognized the antigens expressed in the virus and produced a potent immune response to attack the prostate tumors.
I told you his name was Dr. Vile. Isn’t that awesome?
Medium-length story short: a pair of twins were misdiagnosed with cerebral palsy. Studious mom offers correct diagnosis of DRD. Standard DRD treatment loses effectiveness over time. Dad, who works for a biotech company that builds DNA sequencing machines, sequences twins DNA to find more problems that are alleviated with drug therapy. Everything A-OK.
Comparing the results, the researchers found that the twins both inherited a gene variant from each parent that, together, led them to have low levels of not just dopamine but two other neurotransmitters, serotonin and noradrenalin.
The twins’ neurologist, Jennifer Friedman of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, suggested giving the teenagers a supplement called 5-HTP that’s a precursor for serotonin.
Together with the L-dopa, the additional supplement has improved Alexis’s breathing point to the point that she’s now running track again. Noah’s handwriting and athletic performance have improved, and he’s better able to focus in school.
Genomics: 1, The other guys: 0
Step 1: Win 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature
Step 2: Best friend writes a memoir describing what a jackass you are
Step 3: Shut up about everything?
Nobel prize winner V.S. Naipaul’s next step was to claim that no woman can write nearly as well as he can. You know, with those breasts getting in the way of all that delicate penmanship. From The Guardian:
He felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”