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May 27

Rewritable digital data storage in live cells via engineered control of recombination directionality.

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By Jerome Bonnet, Pakpoom Subsoontorn, and Drew Endy in PNAS, May 21, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1202344109.

The use of synthetic biological systems in research, healthcare, and manufacturing often requires autonomous history-dependent behavior and therefore some form of engineered biological memory. For example, the study or reprogramming of aging, cancer, or development would benefit from genetically encoded counters capable of recording up to several hundred cell division or differentiation events. Although genetic material itself provides a natural data storage medium, tools that allow researchers to reliably and reversibly write information to DNA in vivo are lacking. Here, we demonstrate a rewriteable recombinase addressable data (RAD) module that reliably stores digital information within a chromosome.

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May 26

Support for Greece.

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Reproduced by Lecturer Site, and originally reported by Harald Zur Hausen, in Science, 25 May, pp. 978-979, [DOI:10.1126/science.336.6084.978], 2012.

The Greek Society and its institutions are going through very difficult times, emanating from several years of severe economic crisis. The gross national product of Greece decreased by almost 7% last year alone, and the unemployment rate exceeded 20%….

Meanwhile, fiscal cutbacks threaten the survival of Greece’s best centers of creative potential. A recent commentary in Physics Today (1) points out that funds are potentially available and can be used to remedy some of the above problems. Such funds, named structural funds, derive from “value-added” (sales) taxes throughout the European Union (EU) and are to be used to support the development of the poorer member-areas of the Union. Greece is entitled, annually, to a fraction of these European structural funds. For several years, Greece has used a sizable fraction of these funds to cover its research and technology budget. The disbursement of these funds requires actions from both sides, the EU and Greece. In the past 2 years, for various reasons, these actions did not come to fruition, resulting in the current crisis of Greek initiatives in education, research, and technology. This is halting the prospects of weathering the current crisis. Now is the time for European leaders to secure the survival and future development of Greece’s most competitive scientifi c and technological institutions by reinitiating these measures.

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May 10

Computer Scientists Show What Makes Movie Lines Memorable.

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Reported by ScienceDaily, May 8 2012.

Whether it’s a line from a movie, an advertising slogan or a politician’s catchphrase, some statements take hold in people’s minds better than others. But why?

Cornell researchers who applied computer analysis to a database of movie scripts think they may have found the secret of what makes a line memorable.

The study suggests that memorable lines use familiar sentence structure but incorporate distinctive words or phrases, and they make general statements that could apply elsewhere. The latter may explain why lines such as, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” or “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” (accompanied by a hand gesture) have become standing jokes. You can use them in a different context and apply the line to your own situation.

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May 09

On the reality of the quantum state.

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By Matthew F. Pusey, Jonathan Barrett & Terry Rudolph in Nature Physics, 2012, doi:10.1038/nphys2309, Received 05 March 2012, Accepted 11 April 2012, Published online 06 May 2012.

Quantum states are the key mathematical objects in quantum theory. It is therefore surprising that physicists have been unable to agree on what a quantum state truly represents. One possibility is that a pure quantum state corresponds directly to reality. However, there is a long history of suggestions that a quantum state (even a pure state) represents only knowledge or information about some aspect of reality. Here we show that any model in which a quantum state represents mere information about an underlying physical state of the system, and in which systems that are prepared independently have independent physical states, must make predictions that contradict those of quantum theory.

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May 08

CUNY Energy Institute Battery System Could Reduce Buildings’ Electric Bills.

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Reported by Ellis Simon, in City College of New York News, May 4, 2012.

The CUNY Energy Institute, which has been developing innovative low-cost batteries that are safe, non-toxic, and reliable with fast discharge rates and high energy densities, announced that it has built an operating prototype zinc anode battery system. The Institute said large-scale commercialization of the battery would start later this year.

Zinc anode batteries offer an environmentally friendlier and less costly alternative to nickel cadmium batteries. In the longer term, they also could replace lead-acid batteries at the lower cost end of the market. However, the challenge of dendrite formation associated with zinc had to be addressed. Dendrites are crystalline structures that cause batteries to short out.

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May 01

What Is the Best Way of Stacking Apples?

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Reported by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange) (2012, April 25) in ScienceDaily, May 1 2012.

When stacking apples on a market stall, fruit sellers “naturally” adopt a particular arrangement: a regular pyramid with a triangular base. A French-German team, which includes in particular the Laboratoire de Physique des Solides (Université Paris-Sud / CNRS), has demonstrated that this arrangement is favored for reasons of mechanical stability. This work, which is published on the Physical Review Letters (PRL) website, could contribute to the design of organized porous materials.

Take apples or marbles. The best way to stack them consists in erecting a pyramid layer by layer, which ensures the maximum number of spheres is fitted into the minimum amount of space. There are several arrangements for stacking such identical spheres (of the same volume) with the same, optimal density. Two, in particular, are well known: a structure known as face centered cubic (FCC), whose base is necessarily a triangle for the smallest possible pyramid, and a hexagonally close-packed (HCP) structure with a hexagonal base, also when constructing the smallest possible pyramid. The first arrangement consists of a periodic repetition of three different positions of layers: ABCABC…. In the second, two different positions of layers are periodically repeated: ABABAB…. As early as 1611, while studying the stacking of canon balls, the scientist Johannes Kepler proposed the FCC arrangement as being the most efficient. It is moreover the arrangement used by stall holders to stack their fruit and vegetables.

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