Jan 182018

via cidrap

Microscopic yeast have been wreaking havoc in hospitals around the world—creeping into catheters, ventilator tubes, and IV lines—and causing deadly invasive infection. One culprit species, Candida auris, is resistant to many antifungals, meaning once a person is infected, there are limited treatment options. But in a recent Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy study, researchers confirmed a new drug compound kills drug-resistant C. auris, both in the laboratory and in a mouse model that mimics human infection.

APX001, the prodrug of the active moiety APX001A, is currently in clinical development by Amplyx Pharmaceuticals. It works through a novel mechanism of action. Unlike other antifungal agents that poke holes in yeast cell membranes or inhibit sterol synthesis, the new drug targets an enzyme called Gwt1, which is required for anchoring critical proteins to the fungal cell wall. This means C. auris can’t grow properly and has a harder time forming drug-resistant fungal biofilms that are a stubborn source of hospital outbreaks. Gwt1 is highly conserved across fungal species, suggesting the new drug could treat a broad range of fungal infections.

“The drug is first in a new class of antifungals, which could help stave off drug resistance. Even the most troublesome strains are unlikely to have developed workarounds for its mechanism of action,” said study lead Mahmoud A. Ghannoum, PhD, professor of dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

In the new study, Ghannoum’s team tested the drug against 16 different C. auris strains, collected from infected patients in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and India. When they exposed the isolates to the new drug, they found it more potent than nine other currently available antifungals. According to the authors, the concentration of study drug needed to kill C. auris growing in laboratory dishes was “eight-fold lower than the next most active drug, anidulafungin, and more than 30-fold lower than all other compounds tested.”

The researchers also developed a new mouse model of invasive C. auris infection for the study. Said Ghannoum, “To help the discovery of effective drugs it will be necessary to have an animal model that mimics this infection. Our work helps this process in two ways: first we developed the needed animal model that mimics the infection caused by this devastating yeast, and second, we used the developed model to show the drug is effective in treating this infection.”

Ghannoum studied immunocompromised mice infected with C. auris via their tail vein—similar to very sick humans in hospitals who experience bloodstream infections. Infected mice treated with APX001 and anidulafungin had significant reductions in kidney and lung fungal burden two days post-treatment, compared to control animals. APX001 also significantly decreased fungal burden in the brain, consistent with brain penetration, whereas reduction with anidulafungin did not reach significance. The results suggest the new drug could help treat even the most invasive infections.

According to Ghannoum, the most exciting element of the study is that it brings a promising antifungal one step closer to patients. It helps lay the foundation for phase 2 clinical trials that study that study the safety and efficacy of new drugs in patients with fungal infections. There is an urgent need for such studies, as C. auris infection has become a serious threat to healthcare facilities worldwide—and resistance to commercially available antifungal drugs is rising.

“Limited treatment options calls for the development of new drugs that are effective against this devastating infection,” Ghannoum said. “We hope that we contributed in some way towards the development of new drugs.”

Learn more: New Antifungal Provides Hope in Fight Against Superbugs


The Latest on: Antifungal

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Jan 182018

Nanostructures made from gold concentrate light energy and boost molybdenum’s ability to pull apart the two nitrogen atoms in an N2 molecule (illustration by the researchers)

Nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizer forms the backbone of the world food supply, but its manufacture requires a tremendous amount of energy. Now, computer modeling at Princeton University points to a method that could drastically cut the energy needed by using sunlight in the manufacturing process.

Manufacturers currently make fertilizer, pharmaceuticals and other industrial chemicals by pulling nitrogen from the air and combining it with hydrogen. Nitrogen gas is plentiful, making up about 78 percent of air. But atmospheric nitrogen is hard to use because it is locked into pairs of atoms, called N2, and the bond between these two atoms is the second strongest in nature. Therefore it takes a lot of energy to split up the N2molecule and allow the nitrogen and hydrogen atoms to combine. Most manufacturers use the Haber-Bosch process, a century-old technique that exposes the N2 and hydrogen to an iron catalyst in a chamber heated to more than 400 degrees Celsius. The method uses so much energy that Science magazine recently reported that manufacturing fertilizer and similar compounds represents about 2 percent of the world’s energy use each year.

A research team led by Emily Carter, Princeton’s dean of engineering and the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment, wanted to know if it would be possible to use light to weaken the bond in the atmospheric nitrogen molecule. If so, it would allow manufacturers to radically cut the energy needed to split nitrogen for use in fertilizer and a wide array of other products.

“Harnessing the energy in sunlight to activate inert molecules such as nitrogen, and greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide for that matter, is a grand challenge for sustainable chemical production,” said Carter, who is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and of applied and computational mathematics. “Replacing traditional energy-intensive high temperature, high pressure chemical manufacturing with sunlight-driven, room temperature processes is another way to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.”

The researchers were interested in taking advantage of the unique behavior of light when it interacts with metallic nanostructures smaller than a single wavelength of light. Among other effects, the phenomenon, called surface plasmon resonance, can concentrate light and enhance electric fields. Dr. John Mark Martirez, a post-doctoral researcher and member of the Princeton research team, said that the researchers believed it would be possible to use plasmon resonances to boost a catalyst’s power to split apart nitrogen molecules.

“It is a different method of delivering energy to break the bond,” he said. “Instead of using heat, we are using light.”

In a January 5 article in the journal Science Advances, the researchers describe how they used computer simulations to model light’s behavior in tiny structures made from gold and molybdenum. Gold is one of a class of metals, including copper and aluminum, which can be shaped to produce surface plasmon resonances. The researchers used a set of computer modeling tools to simulate nanostructures made of gold, and added molybdenum to its surface, which is a metal that can split nitrogen molecules.

“The plasmonic metal acts like a lightning rod,” Martirez said. “It concentrates a large amount of the light energy in a very small area.”

The concentrated light energy effectively boosts the molybdenum’s ability to pull apart the two nitrogen atoms.

“The interaction of light magnifies the electric field close to the surface of the catalyst, which helps break the bond,” Martirez said.

The researchers’ calculations indicate that the plasmon-resonance technique should be able to reduce substantially the energy needed to crack the atmospheric nitrogen molecules. Carter said the modeling indicates it should be possible to dissociate the nitrogen molecule at room temperature and at lower pressures than required by the Haber-Bosch process.

Simulating the process while also considering the effect of light was challenging. Most computer models that can accurately assess chemical reactions at the molecular level, and account for changes induced by light, can only simulate a few atoms at a time. While this is scientifically valuable, it does not usually suffice for evaluating industrial processes.

So the researchers turned to a technique originally developed by Carter that allows scientists to use highly accurate methods for modeling a small fragment of the surface and then extend those results to get an understanding of a wider system. The technique, called embedded correlated wave function theory, has been repeatedly verified and extensively used within the Carter group, and the researchers are confident in its application to the nitrogen-splitting problem.

Carter said her team is collaborating with Naomi Hallas and Peter Nordlander of Rice University to test the plasmon-resonance technique in the lab. The researchers have worked together on similar projects in the past, including demonstrating the dissociation of hydrogen molecules on pure gold nanoparticles.

As a next step, Carter said she would like to extend the plasmon resonance technique to other strong chemical bonds. One candidate is the carbon-hydrogen bond in methane. Manufacturers use natural gas to supply the hydrogen in fertilizer as well as other important industrial chemicals. So finding a low-energy method to break that bond could also be a boon to manufacturing.

Learn more: New process could slash energy demands of fertilizer, nitrogen-based chemicals


The Latest on: Nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizer
  • New process could slash energy demands of fertilizer, nitrogen-based chemicals
    on January 17, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    Nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizer forms the backbone of the world food supply, but its manufacture requires a tremendous amount of energy. Now, computer modeling at Princeton University points to a method that could drastically cut the energy needed by ... […]

  • California farm communities pay price for decades of fertilizer use
    on August 13, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    A pollutant that has leached into California aquifers since farmers first began using synthetic fertilizer continues to accumulate and would not be removed from groundwater even if the state’s agriculture businesses abruptly quit using nitrogen-based ... […]

  • Fertilizer produces high levels of greenhouse gases
    on June 11, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Soil microbes convert nitrogen-rich crop fertilizers, including manure and synthetic fertilizers, into nitrous oxide. Nitrogen-based fertilizers spur greenhouse gas emissions by stimulating microbes in the soil to produce more nitrous oxide. Agriculture ... […]

  • Nitrate pollution continues for decades after fertilizer use
    on October 21, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Using isotope tracers, scientists followed the fate of nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizers applied to fields ... the paper concluded. Nitrate pollution is widespread in California's agricultural regions, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley, where ... […]

  • DGC plans to expand fertilizer facilities
    on December 14, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Projects under way at Dakota Gasification Co., near Beulah, will increase the synthetic natural gas plant's capacity ... store and transport than other nitrogen-based fertilizers. Liebelt said if the pre-engineering study looks good, the project will ... […]

  • Towa Watering Can Turns Urine Into Plant Fertilizer
    on January 13, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    This nickname given to urine fertilizer may not be far from the truth if you can get past the ickiness of the pot and learn about the benefits. If using synthetic fertilizer ... purchase incredible amounts of nitrogen-based fertilizer which is washed ... […]

  • EarthTalk: Is cotton the dirtiest crop?
    on August 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Conventionally grown cotton also uses large amounts of nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizer - almost a third of a pound, says the OTA, to grow one pound of raw cotton. To put that in perspective, it takes just less than one pound of raw cotton to make one t ... […]

  • Is there enough pig manure to feed the world?
    on April 30, 2008 at 7:53 am

    And since synthetic fertilizer — especially nitrogen-based fertilizer — requires huge inputs of fossil fuels to manufacture, the corollary conclusion is distinctly Malthusian: We run out of fossil fuels, then we run out of fertilizer, then we run out ... […]

  • Nitrogen Fertilizers Are Bad for The Soil
    on October 30, 2007 at 7:39 am

    For decades now, the United States used nitrogen-based fertilizers, believing that it would ... carbon quantities in the soil has began as soon as 1950, when synthetic nitrogen fertilizers started being used. The practice of fertilizing the soil with ... […]

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Jan 182018

via University of Texas at Dallas

The RNA mimic that Dr. Zachary Campbell’s team designed showed the ability to reduce behavioral response to pain.

For anyone who has accidentally injured themselves, Dr. Zachary Campbell not only sympathizes, he’s developing new ways to blunt pain.

“If you have ever hit yourself with a hammer, afterward, even a light touch can be painful for days or even weeks,” said Campbell, who researches pain on the molecular level at The University of Texas at Dallas. “While many of us may not be coordinated enough to avoid an accident, my goal is to disrupt the inception and persistence of pain memories.”

Campbell directs the Laboratory of RNA Control and recently published a study in the journal Nature Communications in close collaboration with Dr. Ted Price, an associate professor from the Pain Neurobiology Research Group, and Dr. Michael Burton, a new assistant professor from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences who conducted postdoctoral work at UT Dallas.

This work describes a new method of reducing pain-associated behaviors with RNA-based medicine, creating a new class of decoy molecules that prevent the onset of pain.

“Even simple memories are nothing short of extraordinary,” Campbell said. “To promote healing, our nervous system catalogs our sensory experiences and, under normal circumstances, eventually forgets. Defects in this process can result in chronic pain — a root cause of enormous suffering.”

Reducing Behavioral Response to Pain

The need for research in this field is easy to understand.

“Pain is a pervasive and devastating problem,” Campbell said. “It’s the most prominent reason why Americans seek medical attention. Poorly treated pain causes enormous human suffering, as well as a tremendous burden on medical care systems and our society.”

Campbell’s team took the approach of blocking the creation of the proteins that set pain in motion. After an injury, instructions provided by the genome — the full set of genetic instructions present in each cell — are translated to create pain-signaling proteins. Those instructions are encoded in molecules called messenger RNA, or mRNA. The decoy Campbell’s team constructed interrupts the pain-protein synthesis process that mRNA facilitates, reducing signs of inflammation and impairing pain behaviors.

“When you have an injury, certain molecules are made rapidly,” said Campbell, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “With this Achilles’ heel in mind, we set out to sabotage the normal series of events that produce pain at the site of an injury. In essence, we eliminate the potential for a pathological pain state to emerge.”

The RNA mimic that Campbell’s team designed was injected at the site of an injury in experiments on mice, and showed the ability to reduce behavioral response to pain.

“We’re manipulating one step of protein synthesis,” Campbell said. “Our results indicate that local treatment with the decoy can prevent pain and inflammation brought about by a tissue injury.”

Overcoming a Molecular Challenge

One huge hurdle in creating such an RNA-based compound was overcoming the rapid metabolism of these molecules.

“Molecules that degrade quickly in cells are not great drug candidates. The stability of our compounds is an order of magnitude greater than unmodified RNA.” Campbell said.

Campbell explained that specialized nerve cells called nociceptors communicate with your brain in response to thermal, chemical and mechanical stimuli.

“Imagine touching a hot stovetop, walking into a wall or getting a paper cut,” he said. “Part of the cellular origin that causes subsequent pain is initiated by nociceptors, but the molecular mechanisms behind these persistent changes are poorly understood. Our study developed a targeted inhibitor that both shed light on these processes and reduced pain sensitization following an injury.”

The ongoing opioid crisis highlights the need for pain treatments that don’t create addictions. Hopefully, this is a step in that direction.

Dr. Zachary Campbell, assistant professor of biological sciences

Campbell emphasized the importance of treating pain at the site of an injury; a major problem with drugs that interact with the central nervous system is that they also can affect the reward center of the brain.

“The ongoing opioid crisis highlights the need for pain treatments that don’t create addictions,” he said. “Hopefully, this is a step in that direction.”

Campbell credits the role of team-based science for the discovery.

“This work was made possible through a tight collaboration between my lab and that of Dr. Price,” Campbell said. “These experiments would not have been possible without Ted’s tremendous support, dedication and broadly insightful character. Ted is an eminent scholar at the interface of translational control and pain. His deep expertise in pain mechanisms permeates the manuscript.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to benefit from outstanding collaborators here at UT Dallas, which has emerged as a key player on the national stage of pain research,” said Campbell, who arrived at the University in 2015.

This study was supported by a $2 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study RNA-binding proteins in peripheral neurons. Price and Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, a professor in the Department of Bioengineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, are collaborators on the grant.

Campbell believes this effort proposes a new method of treating a broad range of medical issues.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to create a chemically stabilized mimic to competitively inhibit RNA to disrupt RNA-protein interactions,” he said. “Our approach suggests that targeting those interactions may provide a new source of pharmacological agents. This proof of concept allows us to open a whole new area of science by virtue of the route that we’re attacking it.”

Learn more: Researchers Devise Decoy Molecule to Block Pain Where It Starts


The Latest on: Pain
  • Study of Postsurgical Patients Shows Addiction to Pain Pills Is Rare
    on January 22, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    The outcome measure that Brat et al. used, "opioid dependence, abuse, or overdose," is a broad category that includes patterns of use falling short of what most people would recognize as addiction. That means the actual addiction rate in this study was ... […]

  • ‘A huge pain’: Government shutdown briefly idles federal workers before reprieve
    on January 22, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Hundreds of thousands of federal employees in the Washington region began their workweek on a gray-sky Monday facing a brief, unnerving government shutdown that left many of them fearing what lies ahead. As they were packing up and leaving their offices ... […]

  • Watch ASAP Rocky Freestyle While T-Pain Plays the Piano
    on January 22, 2018 at 10:30 am

    That's a point he proves once again by freestyling over the sounds of T-Pain playing the piano. Spitting in what appears to be a hotel room, Rocky bobs his head while the Florida crooner delivers a freestyle that's definitely off the top. "Why I'm so happy ... […]

  • Breakingviews TV: Grain pain M&A
    on January 22, 2018 at 10:21 am

    ADM is mulling a bid for rival Bunge to create a $30 bln trading house. Antony Currie and John Foley explain why poor returns driven by a grain glut are prompting consolidation talk, and why farmers, regulators and rivals may force a switch to bite-size deals. […]

  • Simona Halep admits ankle pain meant sleepless night before latest Australian Open victory
    on January 22, 2018 at 8:09 am

    World No. 1 Simona Halep has yet to win a major, but she has shown the heart of a champion here, fighting her way through to the quarter-finals despite a badly injured ankle. Halep rolled the ankle in her opening match against Destanee Aiava, but still ... […]

  • From songwriter to singer, how Julia Michaels puts her pain to paper
    on January 22, 2018 at 7:52 am

    As we count down to music's biggest night Sunday on CBS, and we're traveling down the "Road to the Grammys" all week. Watch the 60th annual Grammy Awards Sunday, Jan. 28, at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on CBS. With vulnerable lyrics and a raw voice, a song ... […]

  • Seeing Pain
    on January 22, 2018 at 7:17 am

    Mystery still surrounds the experience of pain. It is highly subjective but why do some people feel more pain than others and why does the brain appear to switch off under anaesthesia so we are unaware of the surgeon’s scalpel? Professor Irene Tracey ... […]

  • From songwriter to singer, Julia Michaels put her pain to paper
    on January 22, 2018 at 6:22 am

    Julia Michaels is nominated for two Grammys for "best new artist" and "song of the year." It's for her multi-platinum selling single, "Issues." Jamie Yuccas introduces us to the songwriter who became a breakout star. […]

  • Mary J. Blige: ‘I Was Dealing With My Personal Pain’ in ‘Mudbound’
    on January 22, 2018 at 1:00 am

    Mary J. Blige was honored with a Hollywood Walk of Fame star on Jan. 11, her birthday, and it gave the 47-year old singer and actress ever more affirmation that she made the right move three years ago when she left New York for Los Angeles. She needed it. […]

  • Autopsy: Tom Petty died of accidental overdose from multiple pain medications
    on January 21, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    Tom Petty died last year because of an accidental drug overdose that his family said occurred on the same day he found out his hip was fully broken after performing dozens of shows with a less serious injury. His wife and daughter released the results of ... […]

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Jan 182018

KU Assistant Professor Brandon DeKosky (center left) and graduate student trainees Rukmini Ladi, Bailey Banach and Ahmed Fahad. Credit: André Faucher

A paper just published in Nature Biotechnology outlines a pioneering method of screening a person’s diverse set of antibodies for rapid therapeutic discovery. Antibody proteins are an important part of the human immune system that specifically target foreign viruses and bacteria, and they have been the fastest-growing class of approved drugs in the past several decades.

The new techniques made it easier to discover new antibody drug molecules while also learning more about immune responses to vaccines and infections. These advances could lead to better preventions and treatments of diseases like Ebola, HIV, flu and Epstein-Barr virus.

“These technologies are providing a new window on human immune protection that we have never been able to see before,” said co-lead author Brandon DeKosky, assistant professor of chemical & petroleum engineering and pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Kansas. “They will dramatically accelerate antibody drug development and may also lead to more effective vaccines.”

DeKosky said key innovations set the stage for this new research, including the development of protein display systems in the 1990s, improvements to antibody discovery beginning in the 2000s and the development of technologies to identify natively paired antibody sequences in the 2010s. The new paper combines advances in these three technical areas in an entirely new way to achieve large-scale antibody analysis and screening, resulting in several new and highly potent antibodies in the process.

With co-authors including Bo Wang, Andy Ellington and George Georgiou at the University of Texas-Austin and Morgan Timm, Nancy Sullivan and John Mascola at the National Institutes of Health, DeKosky has developed a technology to screen millions of human B cells to rapidly identify the antiviral antibodies that they contain.

“Antibody molecules are encoded by B cells and are assembled from two different genes, called the heavy and light chains,” the KU researcher said. “The VH and VL portions — derived from the heavy and light chains, respectively — are the sections of an antibody gene that provide specific viral targeting. So, the VH and VL portions are the most important region to focus on for antibody screening and discovery.”

Previous efforts in antibody discovery often relied on single-cell cloning, which led to dozens of experimental or approved drug therapies. However, single-cell cloning holds several major drawbacks because of its very high costs and is limited to sampling a tiny fraction of the human antibody inventory.

“Because antibodies are derived from two different genes — both of which are highly variable and contained within a single B cell — we need to perform single-cell manipulations en masse to recover the set of complete antibody genes,” DeKosky said. “Traditional single-cell cloning is very expensive and time-consuming. The methods described here overcome those limitations and make it possible to screen millions of antibody-producing cells in a single experiment at an academic lab.”

Limitations of previous approaches were a major motivating factor leading to the development of the new technology for screening native antibody libraries.

“Non-natural gene pairing has been used in the past because it’s so much easier to do, but often the quality of antibodies discovered is not good enough for an effective drug, and the synthetic nature of those antibodies makes it difficult to understand the true human immune response,” DeKosky said. “By maintaining native antibody gene pairings throughout our process, we identified antibodies as they occurred naturally. Along the way, we found extremely potent antibodies and learned more about the human immune response to vaccination and natural infection.”

Researchers next will apply this new platform technology to find additional promising antibodies that could serve as the basis for drug therapies.

“Our major motivation was to be able to understand human antibody responses in great detail, which is critical for new therapeutic drug discovery and for vaccine design,” DeKosky said. “Promising sources to discover new antibodies include donated blood samples from HIV patients with powerful immune responses against the virus, and also individuals who have received vaccines so that we can understand how those vaccines are working. When a potently neutralizing antibody is discovered, it can lead to new vaccine strategies and new therapeutic drug candidates.”

Multiple grants and contracts supported the work, including the National Institutes of Health, the intramural research program of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Leidos Biomedical Research Inc. and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

DeKosky said a large number of students and research trainees were involved in this project, including at UT-Austin, NIH and KU.

“This is a prime example of the synergy between academic research and scientific training, where trainees learn by contributing to a larger scientific project,” he said. “This project was several years in the making, and many undergraduates, grad students and postdocs involved have now transitioned to the next stage of their career. Each of us has brought those new skills and ideas along as we transition to different places.”

The KU researcher said these technologies are being applied for drug discovery against a broad range of disease targets in academia, government and the private sector.

“In my lab, we are continuing to develop and improve these systems, and also apply them to learn more about immune responses and discover new therapeutics,” DeKosky said. “We are extremely excited to apply the technology to a host of exciting research problems here at KU — so stay tuned!”

Top right: DeKosky lab members Natalie Bui, undergraduate summer student, and Tiffany Nguyen, post-doctoral researcher, measure DNA in a sample. Credit: Kelly Tong

Bottom right: Student researchers operate the custom equipment for large-scale genetic analysis of single cells. Credit: Kelly Tong

Learn more: Breakthrough enables screening millions of human antibodies for new drug discovery


The Latest on: Therapeutic discovery

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Jan 172018

ORNL’s Steven Young (left) and Travis Johnston used Titan to prove the design and training of deep learning networks could be greatly accelerated with a capable computing system.

A team of researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has married artificial intelligence and high-performance computing to achieve a peak speed of 20 petaflops in the generation and training of deep learning networks on the laboratory’s Titan supercomputer.

Deep learning is a burgeoning field of artificial intelligence that uses networks modeled after the human brain to “learn” how to distinguish features and patterns in vast datasets. Such networks hold great promise in the realization of numerous technologies, from self-driving cars to intelligent robots.

Due to its ability to make sense of massive amounts of data, researchers across the scientific spectrum are eager to refine deep learning and apply it to some of today’s most challenging science problems. One such effort is ORNL’s Advances in Machine Learning to Improve Scientific Discovery at Exascale and Beyond (ASCEND) project, which aims to use deep learning to make sense of the massive datasets produced by the world’s most sophisticated scientific experiments, such as those located at ORNL.

Analysis of such datasets generally requires existing neural networks to be modified, or novel networks designed and then “trained” so that they know precisely what to look for and can produce valid results.

This is a time-consuming and difficult task, but one that an ORNL team led by Robert Patton and including Steven Young and Travis Johnston recently demonstrated can be dramatically expedited with a capable computing system such as ORNL’s Titan, the nation’s fastest supercomputer for science.

To efficiently design neural networks capable of tackling scientific datasets and expediting breakthroughs, Patton’s team developed two codes for evolving (MENNDL) and fine-tuning (RAvENNA) deep neural network architectures.

Both codes can generate and train as many as 18,600 neural networks simultaneously. Peak performance can be estimated by randomly sampling, and then carefully profiling, several hundred of these independently trained networks.

Both codes achieved a peak performance of 20 petaflops, or 20 thousand trillion calculations per second, on Titan (or just under half of Titan’s single precision total peak performance). In practical terms, that translates to training 40-50,000 networks per hour.

“The real measure of success in the deep learning community is time-to-solution,” said Johnston. “And with a machine like Titan we are able to train an unparalleled number of highly accurate networks.”

Titan is a Cray hybrid system, meaning that it uses both traditional CPUs and graphics processing units (GPUs) to tackle complex calculations for big science problems efficiently; the GPUs also happen to be the processor of choice for training deep learning networks.

The team’s work demonstrates that with the right high-performance computing system researchers can efficiently train large numbers of networks, which can then be used to help them tackle today’s increasingly data-heavy experiments and simulations.

This efficient design of deep neural networks will enable researchers to deploy highly accurate, custom-designed models, saving both time and money by freeing the scientist from the task of designing a network from the ground up.

And because the OLCF’s next leadership computing system, Summit, features a deep-learning friendly architecture with enhanced GPUs and complementary Tensor cores, the team is confident both codes will only get faster.

“Out of the box, without tuning to Summit’s unique architecture, we are expecting an increase in performance up to 50 times,” said Johnston.

With that sort of network training capability, Summit could be indispensable to researchers across the scientific spectrum looking to deep learning to help them tackle some of science’s most immense challenges.

Patton’s team is not waiting for the improved hardware to start tackling current scientific data challenges; they have already deployed their codes to assist domain scientists at the Department of Energy’s Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois.

Researchers at Fermilab used MENNDL to better understand how neutrinos interact with ordinary matter by producing a classification network to support their Main Injector Experiment for v-A (MINERvA), a neutrino scattering experiment. The task, known as vertex reconstruction, required a network to analyze images and precisely identify the location where neutrinos interact with one of many targets—a task akin to finding the aerial source of a starburst of fireworks.

In only 24 hours, MENNDL produced optimized networks that outperformed any previously handcrafted network—an achievement that could easily have taken scientists months to accomplish. To identify the high-performing network, MENNDL evaluated approximately 500,000 neural networks, training them on a data set consisting of 800,000 images of neutrino events, steadily using 18,000 of Titan’s nodes.

“You need something like MENNDL to explore this effectively infinite space of possible networks, but you want to do it efficiently,” Young said. “What Titan does is bring the time to solution down to something practical.”

And with Summit to come online this year, the future of deep learning in big science looks bright indeed.

Learn more: ORNL researchers use Titan to accelerate design, training of deep learning networks


The Latest on: Deep learning networks
  • Using the Titan Supercomputer to Accelerate Deep Learning Networks
    on January 11, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    A team of researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has married artificial intelligence and high-performance computing to achieve a peak speed of 20 petaflops in the generation and training of deep learning networks on the ... […]

  • ORNL’s Titan Supercomputer Used to Accelerate Design, Training of Deep Learning Networks
    on January 11, 2018 at 6:50 am

    A team of researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has married artificial intelligence and high-performance computing to achieve a peak speed of 20 petaflops in the generation and training of deep learning networks on the ... […]

  • Deep Learning And Neural Networks
    on January 8, 2018 at 8:50 pm

    Terence Mills, CEO of and Moonshot, is an AI pioneer & digital technology specialist. Connect with him about AI or mobile on LinkedIn. For companies looking to predict user patterns or how investments will grow, the ability to mobilize artificial ... […]

  • IBM Research achieves new milestone in deep learning performance
    on August 7, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    Read More The research tackles one of the major challenges of deploying deep learning: Large neural networks and large datasets help deep learning thrive but also lead to longer training times. Training large-scale, deep learning-based AI models can take ... […]

  • How AI detectives are cracking open the black box of deep learning
    on July 6, 2017 at 11:18 am

    And every year, this gap is going to get a bit larger.” Each month, it seems, deep neural networks, or deep learning, as the field is also called, spread to another scientific discipline. They can predict the best way to synthesize organic molecules. […]

  • IBM's Brain-Inspired Chip Tested for Deep Learning
    on September 27, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Deep learning’s powerful capabilities rely on algorithms called convolutional neural networks that consist of layers of nodes (also known as neurons). Such neural networks can filter huge amounts of data through their “deep” layers to become better ... […]

  • The Rise Of Client-Side Deep Learning
    on May 12, 2016 at 3:45 am

    Nvidia is also working on a GPU Inference Engine (GIE) that optimizes trained neural networks and delivers GPU-accelerated inference at runtime for web, embedded and automotive applications. This software engine will be part of Nvidia's Deep Learning SDK soon. […]

  • Deep Learning & Neural Networks
    on March 23, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Well known companies such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, as well as many smaller tech companies, are hiring computer scientists with backgrounds in machine learning. Machine learning—the art of teaching machines from data— has matured considerably in ... […]

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Jan 172018

Left-to-right: Barry Badeau, Christopher Arakawa, Jared Shadish, Cole DeForest.
Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Researchers program biomaterials with ‘logic gates’ that release therapeutics in response to environmental triggers

Drug treatments can save lives, but sometimes they also carry unintended costs. After all, the same therapeutics that target pathogens and tumors can also harm healthy cells.

To reduce this collateral damage, scientists have long sought specificity in drug delivery systems: A package that can encase a therapeutic and will not disgorge its toxic cargo until it reaches the site of treatment — be it a tumor, a diseased organ or a site of infection.

In a paper published Jan. 15 in the journal Nature Chemistry, scientists at the University of Washington announced that they have built and tested a new biomaterial-based delivery system — known as a hydrogel — that will encase a desired cargo and dissolve to release its freight only when specific physiological conditions are met. These environmental cues could include the presence of an enzyme or even the acidic conditions that could be found in a tumor microenvironment. Critically, the triggers that cause dissolution of the hydrogel can be switched out easily in the synthesis process, allowing researchers to create many different packages that open up in response to unique combinations of environmental cues.

The team, led by UW chemical engineering assistant professor Cole DeForest, designed this hydrogel using the same principles behind simple mathematical logic statements — those at the heart of basic programming commands in computer science.

“The modular strategy that we have developed permits biomaterials to act like autonomous computers,” said DeForest, who is also a member of both the Institute for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine and the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute. “These hydrogels can be programmed to perform complex computations based on inputs provided exclusively by their local environment. Such advanced logic-based operations are unprecedented, and should yield exciting new directions in precision medicine.”

Hydrogels are more than 90 percent water; the remainder consists of networks of biochemical polymers. Hydrogels can be engineered to ferry a variety of therapeutics, such as pharmaceutical products, special cells or signaling molecules, for purposes including drug delivery or even 3-D tissue engineering for transplantation into patients.

The key to the team’s innovation lies in the way the hydrogels were synthesized. When researchers assembled the polymer network that comprises the biomaterial, they incorporated chemical “cross-link” gates that are designed to open and release the hydrogel’s contents in response to user-specified cues — much like how the locked gates in a fence will only “respond,” or open with a specific set of keys.

“Our ‘gates’ consist of chemical chains that could — for example — be cleaved only by an enzyme that is uniquely produced in certain tissues of the body; or be opened only in response to a particular temperature or specific acidic conditions,” said DeForest. “With this specificity, we realized we could more generally design hydrogels with gates that would open if only certain chemical conditions — or logic statements — were met.”

DeForest and his team built these hydrogel gates using simple principles of Boolean logic, which centers on inputs to simple binary commands: “YES,” “AND” or “OR.” The researchers started out by building three types of hydrogels, each with a different “YES” gate. They would only open and release their test cargo — fluorescent dye molecules — in response to their specific environmental cue.

One of the “YES” gates they designed is a short peptide — one of the constituent parts of cellular proteins. This peptide gate can be cleaved by an enzyme known as matrix metalloprotease (MMP). If MMP is absent, the gate and hydrogel remain intact. But if the enzyme is present in a cell or tissue, then MMP will slice the peptide gate and the hydrogel will burst open, releasing its contents. A second “YES” gate that the researchers designed consists of a synthetic chemical group called an ortho-nitrobenzyl ester (oNB). This chemical gate is immune to MMP, but it can be cleaved by light. A third “YES” gate contains a disulfide bond, which breaks upon reaction with chemical reductants but not in response to light or MMP. A hydrogel containing one of these types of “YES” gates is essentially “programmed” to respond to its physiological surroundings using the Boolean logic of its cross-link gate. A hydrogel with an oNB gate, for example, will open and release its contents in the presence of light, but not any of the other cues like the MMP enzyme or a chemically reductive environment.

They also created and tested hydrogels with multiple types of “YES” gates, essentially creating hydrogels with gates that would open and release their cargo in response to multiple combinations of environmental cues, not just one cue: light AND enzyme; reductant OR light; enzyme AND light AND reductant. Hydrogels with these more complex types of gates could still carry cargo, either fluorescent dyes or living cells, and release it only in response to the particular gate’s unique combination of environmental triggers.

The team even tested how well a hydrogel with an “AND” gate — reductant and the enzyme MMP — could ferry the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin. The doxorubicin-containing hydrogel was mixed with cultures of tumor-derived HeLa cells, which doxorubicin should kill easily. But the hydrogel remained intact, and the HeLa cancer cells remained alive unless the researchers added both triggers for the “AND” gate: MMP and reductant. One cue alone was insufficient to cause HeLa cell demise.

DeForest and his team are building on these results to pursue even more complex gates. After all, specificity is the goal, both in medicine and tissue engineering.

“Our hope is that, by applying Boolean principles to hydrogel design, we can create a class of truly smart therapeutic delivery systems and tissue engineering tools with ever-greater specificity for organs, tissues or even disease states such as tumor environments,” said DeForest. “Using these design principles, the only limits could be our imagination.”

Learn more: Biomaterials with ‘logic gates’ release therapeutics in response to environmental triggers


The Latest on: Biomaterials with logic gates

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Jan 172018

via Frontiers

The team lead by Sílvia Vilares Conde, from CEDOC-NOVA Medical School, in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Galvani Bioelectronics, demonstrated through findings in rats that is possible to restore insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis, by modulating electrically the carotid sinus nerve, the sensitive nerve that connects the carotid body with the brain.

The study is published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD].

In 2013, Silvia Vilares Conde and her research group described that the carotid body, a paired organ that is located in the bifurcation of the common carotid artery and that is classically defined as an oxygen sensor, regulates peripheral insulin sensitivity and that its dysfunction is involved in the development of metabolic diseases.

This first study and others afterwards performed by her group in diabetic rats showed that the bilateral resection of the carotid sinus nerve, and therefore the abolishment of the connection between the carotid body and the brain, restore insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance. Although efficient this surgical irreversible approach has disadvantages, since the carotid body possess other physiological functions as the response to the lack of oxygen (hypoxia) or the adaptation to exercise. Silvia Conde’s team also described that the carotid body is over-activated in animal models of type 2 diabetes, suggesting that decreasing the activity of the organ could be a good therapeutic strategy.

From the partnership with Galvani Bioelectronics (former Glaxo Smith Kline Bioelectronics), the opportunity to electrically modulate the carotid sinus nerve come up. In fact, this work demonstrated that is possible to maintain glucose homeostasis in animals in which electrodes have been implanted in the carotid sinus nerve and submitted to electrical modulation, without significant adverse effects. It has also been demonstrated that the electrical modulation is reversible. Silvia Conde notes that “this work opens the door to the development of a new therapeutic for type 2 diabetes that will provide a long-term management of the disease with negligible adverse effects and interference with daily activities”.

Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insulin resistance and by increased hepatic glucose production that culminates in hyperglycemia. Although a lot of efforts have been performed until the date none therapeutic induce long-term glycaemia control, being expected for the next decades a huge increase in the prevalence of the disease. Thus, this work gives hope to patients with metabolic diseases, as it brings a new approach for the management of type 2 diabetes.

Learn more: Electronic modulation of carotid sinus nerve can be used as a treatment for type 2 diabetes in rats


The Latest on: Type 2 diabetes

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Jan 172018

A schematic drawing of ultrasound-induced cell activation and gene expression.

A team of researchers has developed an ultrasound-based system that can non-invasively and remotely control genetic processes in live immune T cells so that they recognize and kill cancer cells.

There is a critical need to non-invasively and remotely manipulate cells at a distance, particularly for translational applications in animals and humans, researchers said.

The team developed an innovative approach to use mechanogenetics—a field of science that focuses on how physical forces and changes in the mechanical properties of cells and tissues influence gene expression—for the remote control of gene and cell activations. Researchers used ultrasound to mechanically perturb T cells, and then converted the mechanical signals into genetic control of cells.

In this study, researchers show how their remote-controlled mechanogenetics system can be used to engineer chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-expressing T cells that can target and kill cancer cells. The engineered CAR-T cells have mechano-sensors and genetic transducing modules that can be remotely activated by ultrasound via microbubble amplification.

“CAR-T cell therapy is becoming a paradigm-shifting therapeutic approach for cancer treatment,” said bioengineering professor Peter Yingxiao Wang at the University of California San Diego. “However, major challenges remain before CAR-based immunotherapy can become widely adopted. For instance, the non-specific targeting of CAR-T cells against nonmalignant tissues can be life-threatening. This work could ultimately lead to an unprecedented precision and efficiency in CAR-T cell immunotherapy against solid tumors, while minimizing off-tumor toxicities.”

The team brings together the laboratories of professors Wang and Shu Chien, both bioengineering professors at the Jacobs School of Engineering and the Institute of Engineering in Medicine at UC San Diego, in collaboration with professors Kirk Shung of the University of Southern California and Michel Sadelain at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Researchers present their findings in the Jan. 15 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, with UC San Diego Ph.D. candidate Yijia Pan as the first author.

Researchers found that microbubbles conjugated to streptavidin can be coupled to the surface of a cell, where mechanosensitive Piezo1 ion channels are expressed. Upon exposure to ultrasound waves, microbubbles vibrate and mechanically stimulate Piezo1 ion channels to let calcium ions inside the cell. This triggers downstream pathways, including calcineurin activation, NFAT dephoshorylation and translocation into the nucleus. The nucleus-translocated NFAT can bind to upstream response elements of genetic transducing modules to initiate gene expression of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) for the recognition and killing of target cancer cells.

Learn more: Researchers Develop a Remote-Controlled Cancer Immunotherapy System


The Latest on: CAR-T cell therapy
  • CBMG Accelerates Cell Therapy Manufacturing with GE Healthcare’s New Start-to-Finish Solution
    on January 22, 2018 at 4:58 am

    ... in the CAR-T space – this new generation of semi-automated and standardized CAR-T manufacturing capabilities created by GE Healthcare and CBMG may allow cell therapy to provide an optimal platform and opportunity for general oncology patients. […]

  • Novartis sBLA for CAR-T Therapy Kymriah Accepted by FDA
    on January 18, 2018 at 5:51 am

    We remind investors that Kymriah was the first CAR-T therapy to obtain FDA approval in August 2017 for the treatment of patients up to 25 years of age with B-cell precursor ALL that is refractory or in second or later relapse. A novel immunocellular ... […]

  • Novartis’ Kymriah nabs speedy reviews in US, Europe for lymphoma treatment
    on January 17, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    Novartis’ CAR-T cell therapy Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) has been granted fast-tracked reviews in the US and Europe for the treatment of relapsed or refractory (r/r) diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Kymriah will be assessed under a priority review ... […]

  • CAR T-Cell Therapy Gets Priority Review for Lymphoma Treatment
    on January 17, 2018 at 5:52 am

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted a priority review to a supplemental biologics license application (sBLA) for Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) to be used to treat adult patients with relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) who ... […]

  • Speedy EU, US review for Novartis’ CAR-T therapy Kymriah
    on January 17, 2018 at 2:31 am

    If approved by the FDA and EMA, Kymriah would represent the first CAR-T therapy available for two distinct indications in non-Hodgkin lymphoma and B-cell ALL. CAR-T offers a new treatment approach in that it is specifically manufactured for each individual ... […]

  • This Medical Breakthrough Can Cure Cancer with Your Own Cells
    on January 16, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    This past August, after 50 more patients in the trial went into remission, the FDA approved the treatment that had saved Emily and Tori. The process of genetically engineering CAR T cells, patented under the brand name ­Kymriah, is now available to other ... […]

  • Global T-Cell Immunotherapy Market for Cancer & Pipeline Analysis Report 2018
    on January 16, 2018 at 4:00 am

    Recently, the USFDA approved two T-cell Immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer. The approved therapies belong to the class of CAR T-cell Immunotherapies. CAR T-cell therapies are the most researched type of therapy as they have shown exceptional ... […]

  • Cell Therapy Manufacturing: All Signs Point to Commercialization
    on January 15, 2018 at 12:00 am

    Cell therapy is the delivery of living cells to treat ... “A Rapid Cell Expansion Process for Production of Engineered Autologous CAR-T Cell Therapies,” Hum. Gene Ther. Methods 27(6), 209–218 (December 2016), doi: 10.1089/hgtb.2016.120. […]

  • Dynamk Capital Invests in FloDesign Sonics, a Game-Changer for Cell Therapy
    on January 10, 2018 at 12:51 am

    Their key focus area is cell therapy, helping to address manufacturing challenges related to the processing, separation and purification of CAR T cells. Please visit for more information. […]

  • Gene Therapy Had a Breakthrough 2017—2018 May Be Even Better
    on January 9, 2018 at 7:00 am

    But in 2017, the FDA approved a double whammy of CAR-T immunotherapies. The first, green-lighted in August, helps kids and young adults battle an especially nasty form of leukemia called B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Two months later, a therapy for ... […]

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Jan 162018

Dr. Sebastian Winter via UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have used precision editing of the bacterial populations in the gut to prevent or reduce the severity of inflammation in a mouse model of colitis.

The potential strategy – which targets metabolic pathways that are active only during intestinal inflammation – prevented or reduced inflammation in a mouse model of colitis while exerting no obvious effect in control animals with healthy, balanced bacterial populations, said Dr. Sebastian Winter, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and co-corresponding author of the study published online today in Nature.

“Our results provide a conceptual framework for precisely altering the bacterial species that line the gut in order to reduce the inflammation associated with the uncontrolled proliferation of bacteria seen in colitis and other forms of inflammatory bowel disease [IBD],” he said.

“We stress that this is a proof-of-concept study in which a form of tungsten, a heavy metal that is dangerous in high doses, was used. It is never safe to ingest heavy metals. Now that we have a drug target [the bacterial pathway], our goal is to find a safe therapy that exerts a similar effect,” added Dr. Winter, a W.W. Caruth, Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research at UT Southwestern.

Like plants in a garden, the diverse populations of microbes that normally line the intestinal tract, called the microbiota, are essential to human health. They aid in digestion, educate the immune system, and fend off infections. However, when the microbial populations become unbalanced, these otherwise beneficial bacteria become a liability, similar to garden plants that become invasive and push out competing species, he explained.

One of the main hurdles in understanding the biology of the gut microbiota is its vast diversity. In humans, hundreds of different species of bacteria are found in the intestinal tract, and the composition of species varies remarkably between individuals.

Changes in the composition of the gut microbiota are seen in many human diseases such IBD, a chronic, lifelong inflammatory disorder that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 1 million adults in the United States are affected by IBD. The condition currently has no cure or prevention. Changes in the gut microbiota also occur in Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, HIV-related intestinal disease, and the necrotizing enterocolitis seen in certain preterm infants, Dr. Winter said.

E. coli bacteria
E. coli bacteria

Some of the bacteria in the gut microbiota that are linked to inflammatory diseases are those in the Enterobacteriaceae family. Members of that family, including nonpathogenic E. coli (Escherichia coli), are present in small numbers in the healthy gut and protect against infection with pathogens such as Salmonella, a common cause of food poisoning.

However, in IBD patients and in mouse models of colitis, Enterobacteriaceae species grow uncontrollably, said Dr. Wenhan Zhu, co-lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in the Winter laboratory.

In recent work published in Cell Host & Microbe, the Winter laboratory reported that the way members of the Enterobacteriaceae family generate cellular energy for growth and obtain nutrients differs from other gut bacteria. They appear to use unique metabolic tricks to fuel their overgrowth and to push out competing beneficial gut bacteria during illness.

“These pathways are unique in the sense that they are only present in certain bacteria and only function during gut inflammation. That situation presented an opportunity for rational design of prevention and treatment strategies for conditions related to gut inflammation, such as IBD,” Dr. Winter explained.

That observation led to the current study in Nature, which used a form of the heavy metal tungsten to inhibit the pathogen’s metabolic tricks.

“The overall idea is that the tungsten threw a wrench into the way Enterobacteriaceae produce energy, slowing the growth of the pathogenic bacteria during flares of inflammation,” said Dr. Zhu.

The researchers found that tungsten is taken up by bacteria and inadvertently incorporated into an important bacterial cofactor. The resulting poisoned cofactor does not function properly and derails the ability of Enterobacteriaceae to generate energy in the inflamed gut. In mouse models, oral administration of tungstate, a soluble tungsten salt, in the drinking water selectively prevented the bloom of Enterobacteriaceae in the gut, they said. Nearby beneficial bacteria were unaffected, apparently because their energy-generating metabolism does not rely on that particular cofactor.

“It is worth noting that our strategy only inhibits the bloom of Enterobacteriaceae during intestinal inflammation without getting rid of them entirely. This finding is important because in the proper ratios, Enterobacteriaceae also fulfill the role of resisting colonization by bacterial pathogens,” Dr. Winter said. “Therefore, controlling the bloom of these bacteria during episodes of inflammation is preferable to removing them from the system completely.”

Although experimental evidence is scarce, it has long been speculated that changes in the gut microbiota composition can worsen disease, Dr. Winter said.

In this study, tungstate treatment in mouse models of colitis shifted gut microbiota to a more normal state in terms of the balance of bacterial species and also reduced gut inflammation, the researchers report. Tungstate treatment did not cure the disease, but it improved the overall health of the animals.

“We only used tungsten in ‘proof-of-concept’ experiments to identify a potential molecular target, and we are still far from turning this basic discovery into a therapeutic treatment in patients,” Dr. Winter said. Exposure to tungsten – a heavy metal – can potentially have serious negative effects, such as neurological and reproductive harm, he added.

Traditional therapeutic approaches focus on treating the human host. But these latest results give hope that, in principle, it may be possible to harness normal gut bacteria to achieve a positive outcome for the host, for example by carefully steering the function and composition of the gut microbiota during gut inflammation, Dr. Winter explained.

“When doctors use broad-spectrum antibiotics, the goal is to kill off as many bacteria as possible. If a patient shows up in a clinic very ill and there is no time to identify a specific pathogen, broad-spectrum antibiotics will be used,” Dr. Winter said. “The effects of broad-spectrum antibiotics on the gut microbiota are devastating. It’s like using a torch in a flower bed and hoping that once you kill the weeds, the flowers will flourish.

“In our case, we found a way to target only one family of bacteria, the Enterobacteriaceae, and only during inflammation,” he said. “More study is needed to find potential therapies for human disease, but this is a promising first step.”

Learn more: Precision editing of gut bacteria: Potential way to treat colitis


The Latest on: Colitis

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Jan 162018

Figure 1. Flight modes with independently controlled wings

Professor Dongsoo Har and his team in Cho Chun Shik Graduate School of Green Transportation in Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) lately developed an aerial vehicle that is able to control the main wings separately and independently.

Aerial vehicles in a typical category have main wings fixed to the body (fuselage) in an integrated form. Shape of main wings, namely airfoil, produces lift force, thanks to aerodynamic interaction with air, and achieves commensurate energy efficiency. Yet, it is difficult for them to make agile movements due to the large turn radius. Banking the aerial vehicle that accounts for eventual turn comes from the adjustment of small ailerons mounted on the trailing edge of the wings.

Aerial vehicles in another typical category gain thrust power by rotating multiple propellers. They can make agile movements by changing speed of motors rotating the propellers. For instance, pitch(movement up and down along vertical axis) down for moving forward with quadcopters is executed by increased speed of two rear rotors and unchanged or decreased speed of two front rotors. Rotor represents revolving part of motor. However, they are even less energy-efficient, owing to the absence of lift force created by wings.

Taking these technical issues of existing types of aerial vehicles into account, his team designed the main wings of the aerial vehicle to be controlled separately and independently. Their aerial vehicle (named Nsphere drone) executing all the thinkable flight modes, pitch/yaw(twisting or rotating around a vertical axis)/roll(turning over on a horizontal axis), is sketched in Figure 1 and actual flight of the aerial vehicle carrying out all possible types of flight modes is shown in Figure 2. Nsphere drone facilitates controlling the tilting angles of main wings and thus the direction of thrust power created by motors on the leading edge of main wings. Additional motor at the tail of Nsphere drone provides extra lifting force when trying vertical take-off and offers extra thrust power, by tilting the motor upward, while flying forward. Nsphere drone can change flight mode in the air from vertical to horizontal and vice versa. Due to the ability in rotating wings as well as changing the direction of thrust power come by the tail motor, the Nsphere drone with independently controlled wings can take off and land vertically without runway and auxiliary equipment.

Someone might say that it is similar to aerial vehicles that have tilt rotors attached to fixed wings for vertical take-off and landing. However, advantage of Nsphere drone is the ability in tilting each main wing entirely, thereby changing angle of attack of each wing. Angle of attack indicates the angle between the oncoming air or relative wind and a reference line on the aerial vehicle or wing. In general, lift force is affected by the angle of attack. Therefore, Nsphere drone can freely control the amount of lift force gained by each wing. This allows agile movements of Nsphere drone in the horizontal flight mode. Nsphere drone can fly like a copter type aerial vehicle in the vertical flight mode, and like a fixed-wing type aerial vehicle in the horizontal flight mode.

The trial to separate main wings entirely from the fuselage is very challenging. The separation of the main wings is realized by using supports that hold the main wings. One support penetrates both wings and two separate supports grab wings individually. It is also possible to apply this technology to large size aerial vehicle by including the fuselage as a part of the support for tilting wings. Part of the fuselage can be redesigned and integrated with main wings, taking plug-in structure to be coupled to the main fuselage and to stand thrust and air pressure.

Figure 2. Aerial vehicle with independently controlled wings demonstrates the capability in executing vertical and horizontal flight modes, as well as vertical take-off and landing.

Nsphere drone controls each wing independently according to target flight mode. The output of the control is sensed by sensors installed in Nsphere drone and undergoes an adjustment process until desired flight operation is achieved. Through this operational process, the Nsphere drone can make agile movements in ways that might not be attained by other aerial vehicles.

The team expects that the Nsphere drone, which is able to acquire energy efficiency, swiftness and speed, can be adopted for short and mid-distance air traffic delivery. Particularly, it can be distributed like the flying taxi announced by Uber and NASA in November 2017 and it can be effectively used for logistics delivery services such as Amazon’s Prime Air.

Professor Har said, “Nsphere drone can be used for various fields, including airway transportation, military aerial vehicles, surveillance, general safety management, and logistics delivery services. Separate and independent control of the main wings gives us the chance to employ diverse and effective flying methods. Imagine a jet fighter that is able to evade a missile by the separate control of main wings. Just a bit of control could be enough for evading. Our flight mechanism is valid across the range of flight speed”.

At the beginning of the design process in 2016, his team filed patents to countries including Korea, U.S., and China, on various implementation methods, including plug-in structure coupled to the main fuselage, for separate and independent control of main wings.

Learn more: Aerial Vehicle Flying Freely with Independently Controlled Main Wings


The Latest on: Nsphere drone

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    Jan 152018

    This robotic weeder is operating in a field near Santa Maria, CA in June 2015. The field is full of a specialty crop. Photo by Steven Fennimore.

    The future of weeding is here, and it comes in the form of a robot.

    The growing popularity of robotic weeders for specialty crops has grown partly out of necessity, says Steven Fennimore, an extension specialist at the University of California, Davis. Specialty crops are vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, and onions. They are not mass-produced like corn, soybeans, and wheat.

    The need for robotic weeders stems from two issues. One is a lack of herbicides available for use in specialty crops. Another is the fact that hand-weeding has become more and more expensive. Without pesticides, growers have had to hire people to hand-weed vast fields.

    Hand-weeding is slow and increasingly expensive: it can cost $150-$300 per acre. That motivates some growers to look to robotic weeders.

    “I’ve been working with robotic weeders for about 10 years now, and the technology is really just starting to come into commercial use,” Fennimore says. “It’s really an economic incentive to consider them.”

    Fennimore works with university scientists and companies to engineer and test the weeders. The weeders utilize tiny blades that pop in and out to uproot weeds without damaging crops. He says that although the technology isn’t perfect, it’s getting better and better.

    Closer view of robotic weeder blades between specialty crop rows.

    This robotic weeder is operating in a field near Santa Maria, CA in June 2015. The field is full of a specialty crop. Photo credit Steven Fennimore.

     weeders are programmed to recognize a pattern and can tell the difference between a plant and the soil. However, they currently have trouble telling the difference between a weed and a crop.

    That said, Fennimore explains how some companies are training the machines to tell a lettuce plant from a weed. He’s also working with university engineers on a system to tag the crop plant so the weeders will avoid it.

    “The problem with the machines right now is that they are version 1.0, and there’s tremendous room for improvement,” he says. “The inability to be able to tell the difference between a weed and a crop requires the grower to be very exact when using them. The rows have to be a little straighter, cleaner, and more consistent because the machines aren’t that sophisticated yet. The robots don’t like surprises.”

    The robotic weeders currently on the market cost between $120,000 and $175,000. For some California growers, it is a better long-term option than expensive hand-weeding. Others think it’s a lot of money for a new technology, and are waiting for it to get better and cheaper.

    Robotic weeder attached behind tractor between rows of tomato plants

    This robotic weeder is going through a tomato field, a crop the researchers are starting to work with as well. Photo credit Steven Fennimore.

    Fennimore believes robotic weeders are the future of weeding in specialty crops. Because of higher labor costs and more incentives to grow organically with fewer pesticides, European growers have been using robotic weeders for some time.

    Fennimore is focusing his work on physical control of weeds because it offers the best option. He’s also started working in crops besides lettuce, such as tomatoes and onions. He adds that each crop will require a different system.

    “I believe what makes the robotic weeders better than herbicides is that this electronic-based technology is very flexible and can be updated easily,” he says. “We all update our phones and computers constantly, which is a sign of a robust and flexible technology.”

    Learn more: Robotic weeders: to a farm near you?


    The Latest on: Robotic weeders
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      on January 13, 2018 at 11:17 am

      They range from the use of robotic weeders to the cultivation of squill bulbs, which may have medical applications. All have been funded by the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) in Wales, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes. This three-year scheme ... […]

    • Coming To a Farm Near You – Robotic Weeders
      on January 11, 2018 at 4:53 am

      Robotic weeders could be coming to a farm near to you, with the technology offering an alternative to using herbicides and hand-weeding. Speciality crops – vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes and onions – are just that, a speciality. They are ... […]

    • Robotic Weeders: Coming to a Farm near You?
      on January 10, 2018 at 6:51 am

      The future of weeding is here, and it comes in the form of a robot. The growing popularity of robotic weeders for specialty crops has grown partly out of necessity, says Steven Fennimore, an extension specialist at the University of California, Davis. […]

    • Robotic weeders: to a farm near you?
      on January 10, 2018 at 2:09 am

      (Nanowerk News) The future of weeding is here, and it comes in the form of a robot. The growing popularity of robotic weeders for specialty crops has grown partly out of necessity, says Steven Fennimore, an extension specialist at the University of ... […]

    • Robotic Weeder (2 of 3) (image)
      on January 9, 2018 at 10:10 am

      The robotic weeder goes between the crop rows. The rows must be very straight and precise for the weeder to properly do its job. Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing ... […]

    • Progress reported on robotic weeders for vegetables
      on January 3, 2018 at 11:59 pm

      The next generation of computer-controlled, automated cultivators will be able to use cameras to remove weeds in the seed line as close as 1 inch from young tomato or lettuce plants, without damaging the crop. University of California researchers say they ... […]

    • Arable Horizons: Robotics revolution to benefit arable farmers
      on May 9, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      While intelligent robots might be some way off, perception and vision technology is already being applied in the field via camera guided mechanical weeders. An interesting example in the pipeline is a robotic broccoli harvester. Traditionally ... […]

    • Naïo Technologies launches robotic weeder for large vegetable farms
      on June 27, 2016 at 5:42 am

      These tools are also compatible with the Oz weeding robot: inter-row plowshares, comb harrows, spring harrows and specific plowshares for in-row weeding. More tools, such as Kress finger weeders, are currently under way to enable a variety of weeding ... […]

    • This robot that destroys 120 weeds per minute could revolutionize food production
      on November 20, 2015 at 7:45 am

      The Prius-sized robot uses lasers and satellite positioning to move around. It knows its location up to the centimeter. Farmers usually control weeds by mowing them, through chemical use, or a combination of the two. Mechanical weeders can disturb the ... […]

    • Robotic weeder
      on September 2, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Chemical-free, power-efficient robotic weeders have been developed for controlling weeds on crop fields, particularly of high value crops. I think this technology should be introduced in Bangladesh and a modified version of the tool be released after ... […]

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    Jan 152018

    Research on the water electrolyte: Empa researcher Ruben-Simon Kühnel connecting a test cell to the charger with the concentrated saline solution. The stability of the system is determined in several charging and discharging cycles. Photo: Empa

    Water could form the basis for future particularly inexpensive rechargeable batteries.  Empa researchers have succeeded in doubling the electrochemical stability of water with a special saline solution. This takes us one step closer to using the technology commercially.

    In the quest to find safe, low-cost batteries for the future, eventually we have to ask ourselves a question: Why not simply use water as an electrolyte? Water is inexpensive, available everywhere, non-flammable and can conduct ions. However, water has one major drawback: It is chemically stable only up to a voltage of 1.23 volts. In other words, a water cell supplies three times less voltage than a customary lithium ion cell with 3.7 volts, which makes it poorly suited for applications in an electric car. A cost-effective, water-based battery, however, could be extremely interesting for stationary electricity storage applications.

    Saline solution without free water

    Ruben-Simon Kühnel and David Reber, researchers in Empa’s Materials for Energy Conversion department, have now discovered a way to solve the problem: The salt containing electrolyte has to be liquid, but at the same time it has to be so highly concentrated that it does not contain any «excess» water.

    For their experiments, the two researchers used the special salt sodium FSI (precise name: sodium bis(fluorosulfonyl)imide). This salt is extremely soluble in water: seven grams of sodium FSI and one gram of water produce a clear saline solution (see video clip). In this liquid, all water molecules are grouped around the positively charged sodium cations in a hydrate shell. Hardly any unbound water molecules are present.


    One gram of water dissolves seven grams of sodium FSI. This produces a clear saline solution with an electrochemical stability of up to 2.6 volts – twice as much as other aqueous electrolytes.

    Cost-effective production

    The researchers discovered that this saline solution displays an electrochemical stability of up to 2.6 volts –nearly twice as much as other aqueous electrolytes. The discovery could be the key to inexpensive, safe battery cells; inexpensive because, apart from anything else, the sodium FSI cells can be constructed more safely and thus more easily than the well-known lithium ion batteries.

    The system has already withstood a series of charging and discharging cycles in the lab. Until now, however, the researchers have been testing the anodes and cathodes of their test battery separately – against a standard electrode as a partner. In the next step, the two half cells are to be combined into a single battery. Then additional charging and discharging cycles are scheduled.

    Empa’s research activities on novel batteries for stationary electricity storage systems are embedded in the Swiss Competence Center for Heat and Electricity Storage (SCCER HaE), which coordinates research for new heat and electricity storage concepts on a national level and is led by the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI).  If the experiment succeeds, inexpensive water batteries will be within reach.

    Learn more: The salt water battery


    The Latest on: Salt water battery
    • “Blue Planet II” Will Blow Your Mind and Break Your Heart
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    • LineCore Technology: Probing Below the Surface
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    • An electric eel inspires new battery
      on January 10, 2018 at 4:48 am

      The team, led by University of Fribourg Professor Michael Mayer, designed a power source that generates electricity based on the salinity difference between compartments of fresh and salt water. By arranging hundreds of these compartments in a repeat ... […]

    • Inexpensive And Stable - The Salt Water Battery
      on January 9, 2018 at 10:39 am

      Water could form the basis for future particularly inexpensive rechargeable batteries. Empa researchers have succeeded in doubling the electrochemical stability of water with a special saline solution. This takes us one step closer to using the technology ... […]

    • The salt water battery
      on January 9, 2018 at 2:51 am

      (Nanowerk News) Water could form the basis for future particularly inexpensive rechargeable batteries. Empa researchers have succeeded in doubling the electrochemical stability of water with a special saline solution (ACS Energy Letters, "A High-Voltage ... […]

    • Low-cost saltwater battery wins $500,000 award
      on September 15, 2015 at 2:29 pm

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    Jan 152018

    Purdue doctoral student Tyler Bell is lead author of a new research paper about Holostream, an innovative platform that allows high-quality 3-D video communications on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The research is led by Song Zhang, an associate professor in Purdue’s School of Mechanical Engineering. (Purdue University image/ Trevor Mahlmann)

    A new platform enables high-quality 3-D video communication on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets using existing standard wireless networks.

    “To our knowledge, this system is the first of its kind that can deliver dense and accurate 3-D video content in real time across standard wireless networks to remote mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets,” said Song Zhang, an associate professor in Purdue University’s School of Mechanical Engineering.

    The platform, called Holostream, drastically reduces the data size of 3-D video without substantially sacrificing data quality, allowing transmission within the bandwidths provided by existing wireless networks, he said.

    It improves the quality and expands the capabilities of popular applications already harnessing real-time 3-D data delivery, such as teleconferencing and “telepresence,” which uses virtual reality and other interactive technologies, allowing people to feel or appear as if they were present in a remote location.

    “This technology also could enable emerging applications that may require high-resolution, high-accuracy 3-D video data delivery, such as remote robotic surgery and telemedicine,” said Zhang, director of Purdue’s XYZT Lab.

    Findings are detailed in a research paper to be presented during the Electronic Imaging 2018 conference, Jan. 28-Feb. 2 in Burlingame, Calif. The paper was authored by doctoral student Tyler Bell; Jan P. Allebach, Purdue’s Hewlett-Packard Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Zhang. (A YouTube video is available at

    Existing 3-D video communication technologies have limited applications, in part because of they require specialized and often expensive hardware, complex system setup, and highly demanding computational resources for operation in real-time, or without delay.Before 3-D video can be transmitted it must be compressed. However, it has been difficult to compress 3-D video for transmission in real time using conventional methods. The new platform solves the problem by first converting 3-D video to 2-D format.

    “Standard 2-D image and video compression techniques are quite mature and enable today’s modern 2-D video communications over standard wireless networks,” Zhang said. “If 3-D geometry can be efficiently and precisely converted into standard 2-D images, existing 2-D video communication platforms can be immediately leveraged for low bandwidth 3-D video communications.”

    The 3-D objects are represented by a mesh of intersecting lines that form triangles. On top of this geometry is a “texture” of features that make the objects look realistic.

     “This paper presents a novel method for the efficient and precise encoding of 3-D video data and color texture into a regular 2-D video format,” Zhang said. “We developed a novel 3-D video compression method that can drastically reduce 3-D video data size without substantially sacrificing data quality.”

    The framework was tested using standard medium-bandwidth networks to simultaneously deliver high-quality 3-D videos to multiple mobile devices.

    Holostream is made possible through a new pipeline for 3-D video recording, compression, transmission, decompression and visualization.

    The team developed both the hardware and software for the pipeline including a 3-D video capture system. A 3-D camera captures the images, using an LED light to project structured patterns of stripes onto the object being scanned. These stripes allow the system to determine the depth and shape of the object.

    The platform could enable applications where real-time delivery of high-resolution, high accuracy of 3-D video data is especially critical, such as collaborative design and online “facial behavior analysis,” which could reveal a person’s mental state and medical conditions such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Learn more: ‘Holostream’ allows high-quality wireless 3-D video communications


    The Latest on: 3-D video communication
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    • Bored by Skype and FaceTime? 3D video chat is on its way to a phone near you
      on January 16, 2018 at 3:48 am

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    • ‘Holostream’ allows high-quality wireless 3-D video communications
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    Jan 142018

    NICER’s mirror assemblies concentrate X-rays onto silicon detectors to gather data that probes the interior makeup of neutron stars, including those that appear to flash regularly, called pulsars.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Keith Gendreau

    In a technology first, a team of NASA engineers has demonstrated fully autonomous X-ray navigation in space — a capability that could revolutionize NASA’s ability in the future to pilot robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond.

    The demonstration, which the team carried out with an experiment called Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology, or SEXTANT, showed that millisecond pulsars could be used to accurately determine the location of an object moving at thousands of miles per hour in space — similar to how the Global Positioning System, widely known as GPS, provides positioning, navigation, and timing services to users on Earth with its constellation of 24 operating satellites.

    “This demonstration is a breakthrough for future deep space exploration,” said SEXTANT Project Manager Jason Mitchell, an aerospace technologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “As the first to demonstrate X-ray navigation fully autonomously and in real-time in space, we are now leading the way.”

    This technology provides a new option for deep space navigation that could work in concert with existing spacecraft-based radio and optical systems.

    Although it could take a few years to mature an X-ray navigation system practical for use on deep-space spacecraft, the fact that NASA engineers proved it could be done bodes well for future interplanetary space travel. Such a system provides a new option for spacecraft to autonomously determine their locations outside the currently used Earth-based global navigation networks because pulsars are accessible in virtually every conceivable fight regime, from low-Earth to deepest space.

    Exploiting NICER Telescopes

    The SEXTANT technology demonstration, which NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate had funded under its Game Changing Program, took advantage of the 52 X-ray telescopes and silicon-drift detectors that make up NASA’s Neutron-star Interior Composition Explorer, or NICER. Since its successful deployment as an external attached payload on the International Space Station in June, it has trained its optics on some of the most unusual objects in the universe.

    “We’re doing very cool science and using the space station as a platform to execute that science, which in turn enables X-ray navigation,” said Goddard’s Keith Gendreau, the principal investigator for NICER, who presented the findings Thursday, Jan. 11, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington. “The technology will help humanity navigate and explore the galaxy.”

    NICER, an observatory about the size of a washing machine, currently is studying neutron stars and their rapidly pulsating cohort, called pulsars. Although these stellar oddities emit radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, observing in the X-ray band offers the greatest insights into these unusual, incredibly dense celestial objects, which, if compressed any further, would collapse completely into black holes. Just one teaspoonful of neutron star matter would weigh a billion tons on Earth.

    Although NICER is studying all types of neutron stars, the SEXTANT experiment is focused on observations of pulsars. Radiation emanating from their powerful magnetic fields is swept around much like a lighthouse. The narrow beams are seen as flashes of light when they sweep across our line of sight. With these predictable pulsations, pulsars can provide high-precision timing information similar to the atomic-clock signals supplied through the GPS system.

    This animation shows how NICER scans the sky and highlights the mission’s main features.
    This animation shows how NICER scans the sky and highlights the mission’s main features.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Veteran’s Day Demonstration

    In the SEXTANT demonstration that occurred over the Veteran’s Day holiday in 2017, the SEXTANT team selected four millisecond pulsar targets — J0218+4232, B1821-24, J0030+0451, and J0437-4715 — and directed NICER to orient itself so it could detect X-rays within their sweeping beams of light. The millisecond pulsars used by SEXTANT are so stable that their pulse arrival times can be predicted to accuracies of microseconds for years into the future.

    During the two-day experiment, the payload generated 78 measurements to get timing data, which the SEXTANT experiment fed into its specially developed onboard algorithms to autonomously stitch together a navigational solution that revealed the location of NICER in its orbit around Earth as a space station payload. The team compared that solution against location data gathered by NICER’s onboard GPS receiver.

    “For the onboard measurements to be meaningful, we needed to develop a model that predicted the arrival times using ground-based observations provided by our collaborators at radio telescopes around the world,” said Paul Ray, a SEXTANT co-investigator with the U. S. Naval Research Laboratory. “The difference between the measurement and the model prediction is what gives us our navigation information.”

    The goal was to demonstrate that the system could locate NICER within a 10-mile radius as the space station sped around Earth at slightly more than 17,500 mph. Within eight hours of starting the experiment on November 9, the system converged on a location within the targeted range of 10 miles and remained well below that threshold for the rest of the experiment, Mitchell said. In fact, “a good portion” of the data showed positions that were accurate to within three miles.

    “This was much faster than the two weeks we allotted for the experiment,” said SEXTANT System Architect Luke Winternitz, who works at Goddard. “We had indications that our system would work, but the weekend experiment finally demonstrated the system’s ability to work autonomously.”

    Although the ubiquitously used GPS system is accurate to within a few feet for Earth-bound users, this level of accuracy is not necessary when navigating to the far reaches of the solar system where distances between objects measure in the millions of miles. “In deep space, we hope to reach accuracies in the hundreds of feet,” Mitchell said.

    NICER mission at work aboard the ISS
    This illustration shows the NICER mission at work aboard the International Space Station.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Next Steps and the Future

    Now that the team has demonstrated the system, Winternitz said the team will focus on updating and fine-tuning both flight and ground software in preparation for a second experiment later in 2018. The ultimate goal, which may take years to realize, would be to develop detectors and other hardware to make pulsar-based navigation readily available on future spacecraft. To advance the technology for operational use, teams will focus on reducing the size, weight, and power requirements and improving the sensitivity of the instruments. The SEXTANT team now also is discussing the possible application of X-ray navigation to support human spaceflight, Mitchell added.

    If an interplanetary mission to the moons of Jupiter or Saturn were equipped with such a navigational device, for example, it would be able to calculate its location autonomously, for long periods of time without communicating with Earth.

    Mitchell said that GPS is not an option for these far-flung missions because its signal weakens quickly as one travels beyond the GPS satellite network around Earth.

    “This successful demonstration firmly establishes the viability of X-ray pulsar navigation as a new autonomous navigation capability. We have shown that a mature version of this technology could enhance deep-space exploration anywhere within the solar system and beyond,” Mitchell said. “It is an awesome technology first.”

    Learn more: NASA Team First to Demonstrate X-ray Navigation in Space


    The Latest on: X-ray navigation
    • NASA Team First To Demonstrate X-Ray Navigation In Space
      on January 22, 2018 at 12:16 am

      In a technology first, a team of NASA engineers has demonstrated fully autonomous X-ray navigation in space — a capability that could revolutionize NASA’s ability in the future to pilot robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond. […]

    • Left at the Next Pulsar: Spacecraft Could Navigate by the Stars
      on January 18, 2018 at 1:10 pm

      In November, the telescopes went from serving as science instruments to operating as navigational tools, thanks to the Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and Navigation Technology (SEXTANT) experiment. While ancient mariners navigated the seas using ... […]

    • X-ray ‘GPS’ unveiled by NASA
      on January 18, 2018 at 5:18 am

      A GPS-like navigation system for spacecraft that uses X-ray signals from pulsars could soon be a reality because of an experiment done on the International Space Station (ISS). NASA engineers have shown that the ISS-based SEXTANT system can use signals ... […]

    • Future spacecraft can use pulsars to navigate completely autonomously
      on January 17, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Last week, a group of NASA engineers showed that fully autonomous space navigation is possible through the use of X-rays, a discovery that could overhaul our approach to deep space travel. The X-ray guidance system was successfully tested during the ... […]

    • NASA Engineers Demonstrate Pulsar-Based Navigation in Space
      on January 16, 2018 at 4:54 am

      NASA engineers have successfully demonstrated X-ray navigation in space — a capability that could revolutionize NASA’s ability in the future to pilot robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of our Solar System and beyond. The demonstration was carried ... […]

    • Nasa tests a 'space GPS' that uses X-rays from rapidly spinning stars to help spacecraft explore the far reaches of the galaxy
      on January 16, 2018 at 12:58 am

      As the first to demonstrate X-ray navigation fully autonomously and in real-time in space, we are now leading the way.' During the demonstration, the Sextant team selected four millisecond pulsar targets and directed Nicer to orient itself so it could ... […]

    • NASA’s new X-ray navigation could guide robots through deep space
      on January 13, 2018 at 12:56 am

      NASA wants to use X-ray navigation to guide robotic ships through outer space. In a first, the agency demonstrated its breakthrough technology in November of last year, paving the way for autonomous spacecraft in deep space. “This demonstration is a ... […]

    • NASA X-Ray Navigation System Aims to Turn the ‘Global’ in GPS to ‘Galactic’
      on January 12, 2018 at 2:35 pm

      The navigation system uses x-ray light emitted from pulsars the same way global positioning systems use atomic clocks. NASA has successfully tested a new autonomous X-ray navigation system that could provide deep-space missions with a cosmic version of GPS. […]

    • NASA Demos First X-ray Navigation in Space
      on January 12, 2018 at 6:54 am

      NASA has performed the first fully autonomous X-ray navigation in space, which could help future robotic spacecraft to travel to deep space locations. The space agency said Thursday a team of engineers carried out the experiment called the Station ... […]

    • Nasa develops GPS-like system for interstellar satellites based on X-rays
      on January 12, 2018 at 5:48 am

      Nasa engineers have demonstrated fully autonomous X-ray navigation in space, which could allow the space agency to pilot robotic spacecraft to the far reaches of the solar system and beyond. In an experiment called Station Explorer for X-ray Timing and ... […]

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    Jan 142018

    via University College London

    A method of securely communicating between multiple quantum devices has been developed by a UCL-led team of scientists, bringing forward the reality of a large-scale, un-hackable quantum network.

    To date, communicating via quantum networks has only been possible between two devices of known provenance that have been built securely.

    With the EU and UK committing €1 billion and £270 million* respectively into funding quantum technology research, a race is on to develop the first truly secure, large-scale network between cities that works for any quantum device.

    “We’re in a technology arms race of sorts. When quantum computers are fully developed, they will break much of today’s encryption whose security is only based on mathematical assumptions. To pre-emptively solve this, we are working on new ways of communicating through large networks that don’t rely on assumptions, but instead use the quantum laws of physics to ensure security, which would need to be broken to hack the encryption,” explained lead author, Dr Ciarán Lee (UCL Physics & Astronomy).

    Published in Physical Review Letters and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the study by UCL, the University of Oxford and the University of Edinburgh scientists details a new way of communicating securely between three or more quantum devices, irrespective of who built them.

    “Our approach works for a general network where you don’t need to trust the manufacturer of the device or network for secrecy to be guaranteed. Our method works by using the network’s structure to limit what an eavesdropper can learn,” said Dr Matty Hoban (University of Oxford, previously University of Edinburgh).

    The approach bridges the gap between the theoretical promise of perfect security guaranteed by the laws of quantum physics and the practical implementation of such security in large networks.

    It tests the security of the quantum devices prior to engaging in communications with the whole network. It does this by checking if the correlations between devices in the network are intrinsically quantum and cannot have been created by another means.

    These correlations are used to establish secret keys which can be used to encrypt any desired communication. Security is ensured by the unique property that quantum correlations can only be shared between the devices that created them, ensuring no hacker can ever come to learn the key.

    The team used two methods – machine learning and causal inference – to develop the test for the un-hackable communications system. This approach distributes secret keys in a way that cannot be effectively intercepted, because through quantum mechanics their secrecy can be tested and guaranteed.

    “Our work can be thought of as creating the software that will run on hardware currently being built to realise the potential of quantum communications. In future work, we’d like to work with partners in the UK national quantum technologies programme to develop this further. We hope to trial our quantum network approach over the next few years,” concluded Dr Lee.

    The team acknowledge that an un-hackable network could be abused in the same way that current networks are, but highlight that there is also a clear benefit to ensuring privacy too.

    Learn more: Developing a secure, un-hackable net


    The Latest on: Quantum network

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