This week in science (#41)
The first completely water and solvent-free reactive enzyme system has been developed at University of Bristol. Industrial biosynthetic processes often use enzymes designed or evolved to tolerate increasing amounts of organic solvents, yet it has been a dogmatic tenet that water-protein interactions must be sufficiently maintained for sustained structure and function. By modifying the surface of fatty acid lipases (enzymes that break down fats), researchers were able to create a bioliquid entirely composed of these protein constructs. This will pave the way for more efficient and greener reaction processes that require less to none environmentally harmful solvents.
Astronomers have found a pulsating, dead star beaming with the energy of about 10 million suns. This is the brightest pulsar – a dense stellar remnant left over from a supernova explosion – ever recorded. The discovery was made with NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR. The brightness comes from the energy released from material falling onto the compact. This is the result of the forceful gravitational pull exerted by the dead star. So far scientists believed that only black holes could devour their surroudings with such appetite. This is an exciting discovery, since it challenges physical models for the accretion of matter onto magnetized compact objects. These objects are believed to be responsible for some of the brightest explosions in the Universe.
Read more : NASA Press Release
Read more (Technical): Nature Article
In the EU starting January 1, 2015, all newly approved pharmaceuticals will need to have clinical trial data submitted to a public database. Identified researchers will have largely unfettered access to the data, while registered public users will be limited to on-screen viewing. This pharmacovigilence experiment’s desired outcome is to help inform the public as well as increase understanding among clinicians and the rate of advances of health care and biomedical researchers. Obviously, care must be taken to anonymize patient data and redact commercially-relevant information, but this will still be the broadest open-availability health initiative ever. FDA is considering similar requirements in the US. We’ll keep you posted.
Having the exciting property of being its own antiparticle (that is it simultaneosly behaves as matter and anti-matter) the elusive “Majorana particle” has been finally observed by a group of scientist at Princeton University. To achieve the important results they used a two-story-tall microscope to observe the end of a superconducting wire. The importance of this discovery is related to the special nature of the Majorana particle, which cannot possess intrinsic electric charge and has only a minimal interaction with electromagnetic fields. Therefore this makes the particle a potential candidate for dark matter, which is believed to make up for almost 27 percent of the entire Universe. Majorona particles, again due to their minimal interaction with the rest of the world, could also help scientists to build quantum computers.
So much ice has disappeared from West Antarctica in recent years that Earth’s gravity is now weaker there, researchers reported in the Aug. 28 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Earth’s gravity fluctuates in small ways that are caused by changes in mass. When hefty ice sheets melt, there is less ice and thus less gravitational force pulling in that area. The new results come partly from the European Space Agency’s GOCE satellites. The GOCE gravity map was combined with gravity measurements recorded from the GRACE satellites, a U.S.-German mission that tracks changes in Earth’s ice sheets via gravity. Merging the information from both satellites allowed researchers to measure West Antarctica’s ice loss. The satellites recorded a dip in Earth’s gravity field due to extensive ice loss in West Antarctica. The precise measurements suggest West Antarctica shed some 209 billion metric tons (230 billion tons) of ice each year between 2009 and 2012. This region of Antarctica may have passed a tipping point into unstoppable collapse, according to studies published earlier this year.