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world’s first living, self-healing robots

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Named xenobots after the African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) from which they take their stem cells, the machines are less than a millimeter (0.04 inches) wide — small enough to travel inside human bodies. They can walk and swim, survive for weeks without food, and work together in groups.
These are “entirely new life-forms,” said the University of Vermont, which conducted the research with Tufts University.
Stem cells are unspecialized cells that have the ability to develop into different cell types. The researchers scraped living stem cells from frog embryos, and left them to incubate. Then, the cells were cut and reshaped into specific “body forms” designed by a supercomputer — forms “never seen in nature,” according to a news release from the University of Vermont.
A xenobot with large hind limbs and smaller forelimbs, layered with red heart muscle.
The cells then began to work on their own — skin cells bonded to form structure, while pulsing heart muscle cells allowed the robot to move on its own. Xenobots even have self-healing capabilities; when the scientists sliced into one robot, it healed by itself and kept moving.
“These are novel living machines,” said Joshua Bongard, one of the lead researchers at the University of Vermont, in the news release. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”
Xenobots don’t look like traditional robots — they have no shiny gears or robotic arms. Instead, they look more like a tiny blob of moving pink flesh. The researchers say this is deliberate — this “biological machine” can achieve things typical robots of steel and plastic cannot.
Some xenobots had holes in their center -- which could potentially be used to transport drugs or medicines.Some xenobots had holes in their center -- which could potentially be used to transport drugs or medicines.
Traditional robots “degrade over time and can produce harmful ecological and health side effects,” researchers said in the study, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As biological machines, xenobots are more environmentally friendly and safer for human health, the study said.
The xenobots could potentially be used toward a host of tasks, according to the study, which was partially funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a federal agency that oversees the development of technology for military use.
Xenobots could be used to clean up radioactive waste, collect microplastics in the oceans, carry medicine inside human bodies, or even travel into our arteries to scrape out plaque. The xenobots can survive in aqueous environments without additional nutrients for days or weeks — making them suitable for internal drug delivery.
Aside from these immediate practical tasks, the xenobots could also help researchers to learn more about cell biology — opening the doors to future advancement in human health and longevity.
“If we could make 3D biological form on demand, we could repair birth defects, reprogram tumors into normal tissue, regenerate after traumatic injury or degenerative disease, and defeat aging,” said the researchers’ website. This research could have “a massive impact on regenerative medicine (building body parts and inducing regeneration.)”
It may all sound like something from a dystopian sci-fi movie, but the researchers say there is no need for alarm.
The organisms come pre-loaded with their own food source of lipid and protein deposits, allowing them to live for a little over a week — but they can’t reproduce or evolve. However, their lifespan can increase to several weeks in nutrient-rich environments.
And although the supercomputer — a powerful piece of artificial intelligence — plays a big role in building these robots, it’s “unlikely” that the AI could have evil intentions.
“At the moment though it is difficult to see how an AI could create harmful organisms any easier than a talented biologist with bad intentions could,” said the researchers’ website.

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NASA Artemis I – Flight Day 22: Orion Spacecraft Continues Its Journey Back to Earth – SciTechDaily

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On flight day 20, Orion captured the crescent Earth in the distance as the spacecraft regained communications with the Deep Space Network following its return powered flyby on the far side of the Moon. The spacecraft will splash down on Sunday, December 11. Credit: <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

NASA
Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is &quot;To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.&quot; Its core values are &quot;safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion.&quot;

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA

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On day 22 of the 25.5-day Artemis I mission, the Orion spacecraft continues its journey back to Earth. Flight controllers and engineers continue to test the spacecraft and its systems in preparation for future flights with a human crew aboard.

The second part of the propellant tank slosh development flight test was conducted by engineers. This propellant slosh test is specifically scheduled during quiescent, or less active, parts of the mission. Propellant motion, or slosh, in space is difficult to model on Earth because, due to the lack of gravity, liquid propellant moves differently in tanks in space than on Earth.


On flight day 20, Orion approached the Moon ahead of the return powered flyby burn that committed the spacecraft to splashdown on Sunday, December 11. Credit: NASA

For the test, flight controllers need to fire the reaction control system thrusters when propellant tanks are filled to different levels. The reaction control thrusters used are located on the sides of the service module and can be fired individually as needed to move the spacecraft in different directions or rotate it into any position. Each of these engines provides about 50 pounds of thrust. Engineers measure the effect the propellant sloshing has on spacecraft trajectory and orientation as Orion moves through space.

The test was first performed after the outbound flyby burn, and now again after the return flyby burn, to compare data at points in the mission with different levels of propellant onboard. Approximately 12,060 pounds of propellant has been used, which is 215 pounds less than estimated prelaunch, and leaves a margin of 2,185 pounds over what is planned for use, 275 pounds more than prelaunch expectations. The first prop slosh test objective was completed on day eight of the mission as Orion prepared to enter the distant retrograde orbit.


On flight day 20, Orion approached the Moon ahead of the return powered flyby burn that committed the spacecraft to splashdown on Sunday, December 11. Credit: NASA

A few key milestones for Orion remain, including the entry system checkouts and propulsion system leak checks on mission days 24 and 25, respectively.

Orion will travel at around 25,000 mph (40,000 km/h) while reentering Earth’s atmosphere, testing the world’s largest ablative heat shield by reaching temperatures up to 5,000 degrees <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Fahrenheit
The Fahrenheit scale is a temperature scale, named after the German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit and based on one he proposed in 1724. In the Fahrenheit temperature scale, the freezing point of water freezes is 32 °F and water boils at 212 °F, a 180 °F separation, as defined at sea level and standard atmospheric pressure.&nbsp;

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Fahrenheit (2,800 degrees <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Celsius
The Celsius scale, also known as the centigrade scale, is a temperature scale named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius. In the Celsius scale, 0 °C is the freezing point of water and 100 °C is the boiling point of water at 1 atm pressure.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Celsius) – approximately half the temperature of the surface of the sun. The heat shield is located at the bottom of the Orion capsule, measuring 16.5 feet (5 meters) in diameter, and sheds intense heat away from the crew module as Orion returns to Earth. The outer surface of the heat shield is made of 186 billets, or blocks, of an ablative material called Avcoat, a reformulated version of the material used on the Apollo capsules. During descent, the Avcoat ablates, or burns off in a controlled fashion, transporting heat away from Orion. Learn more about Orion’s heat shield in the Artemis I reference guide.


Artemis All Access is your look at the latest in Artemis I, the people and technology behind the mission, and what is coming up next. This uncrewed flight test around the Moon will pave the way for a crewed flight test and future human lunar exploration as part of Artemis. Credit: NASA

On Thursday, December 8 at 5 p.m. EST, NASA will host a briefing to preview Orion’s return scheduled for Sunday, December 11 and to discuss how the recovery teams are preparing for entry and splashdown. The briefing will be live on NASA TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.

Watch the latest episode of Artemis All Access (video embedded above) for a look back at recent mission accomplishments and a preview of splashdown, including parachute information.

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Discovery Of World's Oldest DNA Breaks Record By One Million Years – Forbes

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Microscopic fragments of DNA were found in Ice Age sediment in northern Greenland. Using cutting-edge technology, researchers discovered the fragments are one million years older than the previous record for DNA sampled from a Siberian mammoth bone.

The discovery was made by a team of scientists led by Professor Eske Willerslev and Professor Kurt H. Kjær. Professor Willerslev is a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and Director of the Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Center at the University of Copenhagen where Professor Kjær, a geology expert, is also based.

“A new chapter spanning one million extra years of history has finally been opened and for the first time we can look directly at the DNA of a past ecosystem that far back in time,” so Professor Willerslev commenting the discovery.

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“DNA can degrade quickly but we’ve shown that under the right circumstances, we can now go back further in time than anyone could have dared imagine.”

Professor Kjær adds that “the ancient DNA samples were found buried deep in sediment that had built-up over 20,000 years. The sediment was eventually preserved in ice or permafrost and, crucially, not disturbed by humans for two million years.”

The incomplete samples, a few millionths of a millimeter long DNA strings, were taken from the København Formation, a sediment formation almost 100 meters thick deposited in the shallow area of a fjord in Greenland’s northernmost point. The climate in Greenland at the time of sedimentation was between 10 to 17 degrees warmer than today, sustaining an ecosystem with no present-day equivalent, resembling a mix of temperate forest and mixed-grass prairie.

Detective work by 40 researchers from Denmark, the UK, France, Sweden, Norway, the U.S. and Germany, unlocked the secrets of the fragments of DNA. The process was painstaking – first they needed to establish whether there was DNA hidden in the sediment, and if there was, could they successfully detach the DNA from the mineral grains – like clay particles and quartz crystals – to examine it? The answer, eventually, was yes. The researchers compared every single DNA fragment with extensive libraries of DNA collected from present-day animals, plants and microorganisms.

The scientists discovered evidence of animals, plants and microorganisms including reindeer, hares, lemmings, birch and poplar trees. They even found that Mastodon, an Ice Age elephant, roamed as far as Greenland before later becoming extinct. Previously it was thought the range of the species did not extend from its known origins of North and Central America.

Some of the DNA fragments were easy to classify as predecessors to present-day species, others could only be linked at genus level, and some originated from species impossible to place in the DNA libraries of animals, plants and microorganisms still living today.

The findings have opened up a whole new period in DNA detection. Thanks to a new generation of extraction and sequencing equipment, researchers will be able to locate and identify extremely small and damaged fragments of genetic information in sediments considered previously unfit for DNA preservation.

“DNA generally survives best in cold, dry conditions such as those that prevailed during most of the period since the material was deposited at Kap København. Now that we have successfully extracted ancient DNA from clay and quartz, it may be possible that clay may have preserved ancient DNA in warm, humid environments in sites found in Africa,” Professor Willerslev concludes.

The paper “A 2-million-year-old ecosystem in Greenland uncovered by environmental DNA” is published in Nature. Material provided by the by University of Cambridge.

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NASA posts high-resolution images of Orion’s final lunar flyby

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Orion just made its final pass around the moon on its way to Earth, and NASA has released some of the spacecraft’s best photos so far. Taken by a high-resolution camera (actually a heavily modified GoPro Hero 4) mounted on the tip of Orion’s solar arrays, they show the spacecraft rounding the Moon then getting a closeup shot of the far side.

The photos Orion snapped on its first near pass to the Moon were rather grainy and blown out, likely because they were captured with Orion’s Optical Navigation Camera rather than the solar array-mounted GoPros. Other GoPro shots were a touch overexposed, but NASA appears to have nailed the settings with its latest series of shots.

Space photos were obviously not the primary goal of the Artemis I mission, but they’re important for public relations, as NASA learned many moons ago. It was a bit surprising that NASA didn’t show some high-resolution closeups of the Moon’s surface when it passed by the first time, but better late than never.

Orion’s performance so far has been “outstanding,” program manager Howard Hu told reporters last week. It launched on November 15th as part of the Artemis 1 mission atop NASA’s mighty Space Launch System. Days ago, the craft completed a three and a half minute engine burn (the longest on the trip so far) to set it on course for a splashdown on December 11th.

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The next mission, Artemis II, is scheduled in 2024 to carry astronauts on a similar path to Artemis I without landing on the moon. Then, humans will finally set foot on the lunar surface again with Artemis III, slated for launch in 2025.

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