The Human Brain & Cybernetics
Mini-Sensor Measures Magnetic Activity in Human Brain
ScienceDaily (Apr. 19, 2012) — A miniature atom-based magnetic sensor developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has passed an important research milestone by successfully measuring human brain activity. Experiments reported this week verify the sensor's potential for biomedical applications such as studying mental processes and advancing the understanding of neurological diseases.
NIST's atom-based magnetic sensor, about the size of a sugar cube, can measure human brain activity. Inside the sensor head is a container of 100 billion rubidium atoms (not seen), packaged with micro-optics (a prism and a lens are visible in the center cutout). The light from a low-power infrared laser interacts with the atoms and is transmitted through the grey fiber-optic cable to register the magnetic field strength. The black and white wires are electrical connections. (Credit: Knappe/NIST)
NIST and German scientists used the NIST sensor to measure alpha waves in the brain associated with a person opening and closing their eyes as well as signals resulting from stimulation of the hand. The measurements were verified by comparing them with signals recorded by a SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device). SQUIDs are the world's most sensitive commercially available magnetometers and are considered the "gold standard" for such experiments. The NIST mini-sensor is slightly less sensitive now but has the potential for comparable performance while offering potential advantages in size, portability and cost.
The study results indicate the NIST mini-sensor may be useful in magnetoencephalography (MEG), a noninvasive procedure that measures the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain. MEG is used for basic research on perceptual and cognitive processes in healthy subjects as well as screening of visual perception in newborns and mapping brain activity prior to surgery to remove tumors or treat epilepsy. MEG also might be useful in brain-computer interfaces.
MEG currently relies on SQUID arrays mounted in heavy helmet-shaped flasks containing cryogenic coolants because SQUIDs work best at 4 degrees above absolute zero, or minus 269 degrees Celsius. The chip-scale NIST sensor is about the size of a sugar cube and operates at room temperature, so it might enable lightweight and flexible MEG helmets. It also would be less expensive to mass produce than typical atomic magnetometers, which are larger and more difficult to fabricate and assemble.
"We're focusing on making the sensors small, getting them close to the signal source, and making them manufacturable and ultimately low in cost," says NIST co-author Svenja Knappe. "By making an inexpensive system you could have one in every hospital to test for traumatic brain injuries and one for every football team."
The mini-sensor consists of a container of about 100 billion rubidium atoms in a gas, a low-power infrared laser and fiber optics for detecting the light signals that register magnetic field strength -- the atoms absorb more light as the magnetic field increases. The sensor has been improved since it was used to measure human heart activity in 2010. NIST scientists redesigned the heaters that vaporize the atoms and switched to a different type of optical fiber to enhance signal clarity.
The brain experiments were carried out in a magnetically shielded facility at the Physikalisch Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Berlin, Germany, which has an ongoing program in biomagnetic imaging using human subjects. The NIST sensor measured magnetic signals of about 1 picotesla (trillionths of a tesla). For comparison, Earth's magnetic field is 50 million times stronger (at 50 millionths of a tesla). NIST scientists expect to boost the mini-sensor's performance about tenfold by increasing the amount of light detected. Calculations suggest an enhanced sensor could match the sensitivity of SQUIDS. NIST scientists are also working on a preliminary multi-sensor magnetic imaging system in a prelude to testing clinically relevant applications.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 163559.htm
Thought projection by neurons in the human brain
'Living' Micro-Robot Could Detect Diseases in Humans
ScienceDaily (Mar. 29, 2012) — A tiny prototype robot that functions like a living creature is being developed which one day could be safely used to pinpoint diseases within the human body.
Called 'Cyberplasm', it will combine advanced microelectronics with latest research in biomimicry (technology inspired by nature). The aim is for Cyberplasm to have an electronic nervous system, 'eye' and 'nose' sensors derived from mammalian cells, as well as artificial muscles that use glucose as an energy source to propel it.
The intention is to engineer and integrate robot components that respond to light and chemicals in the same way as biological systems. This is a completely innovative way of pushing robotics forward.
Cyberplasm is being developed over the next few years as part of an international collaboration funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK and the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA. The UK-based work is taking place at Newcastle University. The project originated from a 'sandpit' (idea gathering session) on synthetic biology jointly funded by the two organisations.
Cyberplasm will be designed to mimic key functions of the sea lamprey, a creature found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed this approach will enable the micro-robot to be extremely sensitive and responsive to the environment it is put into. Future uses could include the ability to swim unobtrusively through the human body to detect a whole range of diseases.
The sea lamprey has a very primitive nervous system, which is easier to mimic than more sophisticated nervous systems. This, together with the fact that it swims, made the sea lamprey the best candidate for the project team to base Cyberplasm on.
Once it is developed the Cyberplasm prototype will be less than 1cm long. Future versions could potentially be less than 1mm long or even built on a nanoscale.
"Nothing matches a living creature's natural ability to see and smell its environment and therefore to collect data on what's going on around it," says bioengineer Dr Daniel Frankel of Newcastle University, who is leading the UK-based work.
Cyberplasm's sensors are being developed to respond to external stimuli by converting them into electronic impulses that are sent to an electronic 'brain' equipped with sophisticated microchips. This brain will then send electronic messages to artificial muscles telling them how to contract and relax, enabling the robot to navigate its way safely using an undulating motion.
Similarly, data on the chemical make-up of the robot's surroundings can be collected and stored via these systems for later recovery by the robot's operators.
Cyberplasm could also represent the first step on the road to important advances in, for example, advanced prosthetics where living muscle tissue might be engineered to contract and relax in response to stimulation from light waves or electronic signals.
"We're currently developing and testing Cyberplasm's individual components," says Daniel Frankel. "We hope to get to the assembly stage within a couple of years. We believe Cyberplasm could start being used in real-world situations within five years."
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 112107.htm
Defining Quantum Computing
Quantum Computer Built Inside a Diamond
ScienceDaily (Apr. 4, 2012) — Diamonds are forever -- or, at least, the effects of this diamond on quantum computing may be. A team that includes scientists from USC has built a quantum computer in a diamond, the first of its kind to include protection against "decoherence" -- noise that prevents the computer from functioning properly.
Scientists have built a quantum computer in a diamond, the first of its kind. The chip in the image measures 3mm x 3mm, while the diamond in the center is 1mm x 1mm. (Credit: Courtesy of Delft University of Technology and UC Santa Barbara)
The demonstration shows the viability of solid-state quantum computers, which -- unlike earlier gas- and liquid-state systems -- may represent the future of quantum computing because they can be easily scaled up in size. Current quantum computers are typically very small and -- though impressive -- cannot yet compete with the speed of larger, traditional computers.
The multinational team included USC Professor Daniel Lidar and USC postdoctoral researcher Zhihui Wang, as well as researchers from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Iowa State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their findings will be published on April 5 in Nature.
The team's diamond quantum computer system featured two quantum bits (called "qubits"), made of subatomic particles.
As opposed to traditional computer bits, which can encode distinctly either a one or a zero, qubits can encode a one and a zero at the same time. This property, called superposition, along with the ability of quantum states to "tunnel" through energy barriers, will some day allow quantum computers to perform optimization calculations much faster than traditional computers.
Like all diamonds, the diamond used by the researchers has impurities -- things other than carbon. The more impurities in a diamond, the less attractive it is as a piece of jewelry, because it makes the crystal appear cloudy.
The team, however, utilized the impurities themselves.
A rogue nitrogen nucleus became the first qubit. In a second flaw sat an electron, which became the second qubit. (Though put more accurately, the "spin" of each of these subatomic particles was used as the qubit.)
Electrons are smaller than nuclei and perform computations much more quickly, but also fall victim more quickly to "decoherence." A qubit based on a nucleus, which is large, is much more stable but slower.
"A nucleus has a long decoherence time -- in the milliseconds. You can think of it as very sluggish," said Lidar, who holds a joint appointment with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Though solid-state computing systems have existed before, this was the first to incorporate decoherence protection -- using microwave pulses to continually switch the direction of the electron spin rotation.
"It's a little like time travel," Lidar said, because switching the direction of rotation time-reverses the inconsistencies in motion as the qubits move back to their original position.
The team was able to demonstrate that their diamond-encased system does indeed operate in a quantum fashion by seeing how closely it matched "Grover's algorithm."
The algorithm is not new -- Lov Grover of Bell Labs invented it in 1996 -- but it shows the promise of quantum computing.
The test is a search of an unsorted database, akin to being told to search for a name in a phone book when you've only been given the phone number.
Sometimes you'd miraculously find it on the first try, other times you might have to search through the entire book to find it. If you did the search countless times, on average, you'd find the name you were looking for after searching through half of the phone book.
Mathematically, this can be expressed by saying you'd find the correct choice in X/2 tries -- if X is the number of total choices you have to search through. So, with four choices total, you'll find the correct one after two tries on average.
A quantum computer, using the properties of superposition, can find the correct choice much more quickly. The mathematics behind it are complicated, but in practical terms, a quantum computer searching through an unsorted list of four choices will find the correct choice on the first try, every time.
Though not perfect, the new computer picked the correct choice on the first try about 95 percent of the time -- enough to demonstrate that it operates in a quantum fashion.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 161943.htm
Facial Defects Shown to Self-Repair
ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2012) — Developmental biologists at Tufts University have identified a "self-correcting" mechanism by which developing organisms recognize and repair head and facial abnormalities. This is the first time that such a mechanism has been reported for the face and the first time that this kind of flexible, corrective process has been rigorously analyzed through mathematical modeling.
Developmental biologists at Tufts University have identified a "self-correcting" mechanism by which developing organisms recognize and repair head and facial abnormalities. The research, reported in the May 2012 issue of the journal Developmental Dynamics, used a tadpole model to show that developing organisms are not genetically "hard-wired" with a set of pre-determined cell movements that result in normal facial features. Instead, the study shows that cell groups are able to measure their shape and position relative to other organs and perform the movements and remodeling needed to compensate for significant patterning abnormalities. Here three abnormal facial structures on the right side of a tadpole self-repair over time. On days 9 to 23, the branchial arch, or gill, (arrowhead) is almost flat rather than displaying the expected curvature, the right side of the jaw (arrow) is deformed, and the right eye is out of position and displays a "chocolate kiss" shape. By day 131-170, the branchial arch has become curved, the jaw displays the expected "U" shape and the right eye has moved up to align with the left eye and has a more rounded shape. (Credit: Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology)
The research, reported in the May 2012 issue of the journal Developmental Dynamics, used a tadpole model to show that developing organisms are not genetically "hard-wired" with a set of pre-determined cell movements that result in normal facial features. Instead, the process of development is more adaptive and robust. Cell groups are able to measure their shape and position relative to other organs and perform the movements and remodeling needed to compensate for significant patterning abnormalities, the study shows.
"A big question has always been, how do complex shapes like the face or the whole embryo put themselves together? We have found that when we created defects in the face experimentally, facial structures move around in various ways and mostly end up in their correct positions," said Michael Levin, Ph.D., senior author on the paper and director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology in Tufts University's School of Arts and Sciences. "This suggests that what the genome encodes ultimately is a set of dynamic, flexible behaviors by which the cells are able to make adjustments to build specific complex structures. If we could learn how to bioengineer systems that reliably self-assembled and repaired deviations from the desired target shape, regenerative medicine, robotics, and even space exploration would be transformed."
Previous research had found self-correcting mechanisms in other embryonic processes -- though never in the face -- but such mechanisms had not been mathematically analyzed to understand the precise dynamics of the corrective process.
"What was missing from previous studies -- and to our knowledge had never been done in an animal model -- was to precisely track those changes over time and quantitatively compare them," said first author Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., post-doctoral associate at the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology. Such an analysis is crucial in order to begin to understand what information is being generated and manipulated in order for a complex structure to rearrange and repair itself.
Co-author with Levin and Vandenberg was Dany S. Adams, Ph.D. Adams is a research associate professor in the Department of Biology and a member of the center.
The Tufts biologists induced craniofacial defects in Xenopus frog embryos by injecting specific mRNA into one cell at the two-cell stage of development; this resulted in abnormal structures on one side of the embryos. They then characterized changes in the shape and position of the craniofacial structures, such as jaws, branchial arches, eyes, otic capsules and olfactory pits, through "geometric morphometric analysis," which measured positioning of a total of 32 landmarks on the top and bottom sides of the tadpoles.
Images of tadpoles taken at precise intervals showed that as they aged, the craniofacial abnormalities, or perturbations, became less apparent. This was particularly true for the jaws and branchial arches. Eye and nose tissue became more normal over time but varied in ability to achieve a completely expected shape and position.
Changes in the shape and position of facial features are a normal part of development, as any baby animal shows. With age, faces elongate and eyes, nose and jaws move relative to each other. But the movement is normally slight.
In contrast, the Tufts research team found that in tadpoles with severe malformations, the facial structures shifted dramatically in order to repair those malformations. It was, the researchers said, as if the system were able to recognize departures from the normal state and undertake corrective action that would not typically take place.
"We were quite astounded to see that, long before they underwent metamorphosis and became frogs, these tadpoles had normal looking faces. Imagine the implications of an animal with a severe 'birth defect' that, with time alone, can correct that defect," said Vandenberg.
Information Exchange Process
These results, say the Tufts biologists, are consistent with an information exchange process in which a structure triangulates its distance and angle from a stable reference point. While further study is needed, the researchers propose that "pings" (information-containing signals) are exchanged between an "organizing center" -- such as the brain and neural network -- and individual craniofacial structures.
The article points out that congenital malformations of craniofacial structures comprise a significant class of birth defects such as cleft lip, cleft palate and microphthalmia, affecting more than 1 in every 600 births. Demystifying the "face-fixing" mechanism by further research at the molecular level could inspire new approaches to correcting birth defects in humans.
"Such understanding would have huge implications not only for repairing birth defects, but also for other areas of systems biology and complexity science. It could help us build hybrid bioengineered systems, for synthetic or regenerative biology, or entirely artificial robotic systems that can repair themselves after damage or reconfigure their own structure to match changing needs in a complex environment," said Levin.
Work was supported by a National Research Service Award and funding from the National Institutes of Health and the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 155420.htm
As already mentioned in the article, thoughts are turning to possible future applications. Other examples of this is with the changing of eye color to choosing the sex of your baby to be.
Has this opened the door to a future with designer humans. You may not be able to advance in evolutionary steps in your single life, but affect the nature of your offspring?
Soon to enter a world of controlled fertilization, with drop down baby selection/modification menus?
Do you choose higher brain capacity, duel functioning respiratory system, regenerative/renewal.. The lists likely could grow and grow, as higher understanding of the process arise.
These are some of the thoughts that come to my mind.
When you consider the level and speed of discoveries, and technological advancements over the past 100 to 112 years. What is on the horizon?
Just a Few Cell Clones Can Make Heart Muscle
ScienceDaily (Apr. 25, 2012) — Just a handful of cells in the embryo are all that's needed to form the outer layer of pumping heart muscle in an adult zebrafish.
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center used zebrafish embryos and careful employment of a new technique that allows for up to 90 color labels on different cells to track individual cells and cell lines as the heart formed.
The growth of the zebrafish heart from embryo to adult is tracked using colored cardiac muscle clones, each containing many cellular progeny of a single cardiac muscle cell. Here, a large clone of green cardiac muscle cells (top) expands over the surface of many smaller clones in a growing heart. (Credit: Vikas Gupta, Duke University Medical Center)
The scientists were surprised by how few cells went into making a critical organ structure and they suspect that other organs may form in a similar fashion, said Kenneth Poss, PhD, professor in the Duke Department of Cell Biology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The study appears online in Nature on April 25.
"The most surprising aspect of this work is that a very small number of cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) in the growing animal can give rise to the thousands of cardiomyocytes that form the wall of the cardiac ventricle," said Vikas Gupta, lead author, who is in the Duke Medical Scientist Training Program for MD and PhD degrees.
Gupta found that about eight single cells contributed to forming the major type of heart muscle in the wall of the zebrafish heart -- and just one or two cells could create anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of the entire ventricular surface.
"Clonal dominance like this is a property of some types of stem cells, and it's a new concept in how to form an organ during development," Poss said.
Another surprise was the way the patches of cloned cells formed muscle.
"It was completely unexpected," Gupta said. "I thought the wall would simply thicken in place, but instead there was a network of cells that enveloped the ventricle in a wave. It was as if a cell at your shoulder grew a thin layer of new cells down your arm surface."
Gupta said this opens an area for investigation to see whether or not a process like this repeats in the hearts of mammals, and perhaps in other internal organs.
Poss said the cell clones appear to have the ability to cover as much of the ventricular surface as possible before other cells start appearing and growing at the surface.
"Our suspicion is that the muscle cells that initiate large clones are not much different from other muscle cells -- they just get to the surface of the heart first," Poss said.
They used the analogy of a sperm getting to the egg first, among all the millions of possible sperm cells.
Poss said the manner in which these muscle cells envelope the heart could lead to new therapies.
"Researchers may be able to channel this developmental process to help damaged hearts or failing hearts to grow muscle that will reinforce the ventricular walls," he said. "Someone who's had a heart attack would want this ability to generate new muscle to cover a scar naturally, and it's attractive to think that the help might come from a small number of muscle cells within a population."
The color-label technique was originally developed by other biologists and was critical to allow the researchers to track heart cell populations.
"You can label individual cells very early in an embryo with a permanent color and those cells and their progeny will keep that color," Poss said. "You can learn what an individual cardiomyocyte did, and its neighbor, and that cell's neighbor and so on, until you've covered much of the whole ventricle of the developing zebrafish."
Poss said it makes sense that this growth process works by a gradual layering process, especially for the heart.
"It's speculative, but for the heart to maintain circulation in a relatively slowly growing animal, a process like this to build the heart might be a way of gradually increasing its circulatory strength to keep up."
Funding for the study came from a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Medical Scientist Training Program supplement. Dr. Poss is an Early Career Scientist of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. This work also was supported by grants from the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute and the American Heart Association.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 140322.htm
Opinionated turds. Thats what its about
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