|Российская наука и мир|
(по материалам зарубежной электронной прессы)
The Guardian / Wednesday 2 March 2016
Miniature milestone as Russian claims new record for world's tiniest book
Measuring 0.07mm by 0.09mm, Vladimir Aniskin has done the delicate work "between heartbeats" to create his tiny tome, about a flea's shoes.
Новосибирский микроминиатюрист, сотрудник ИТПМ СО РАН Владимир Анискин создал две, возможно, самые маленькие в мире книги - размерами 70 на 90 микрон (мк). Толщина страниц из лавсановой пленки - 3-4 мк, соединяются они с помощью вольфрамовой проволочки диаметром 5 мк.
A Russian scientist has created what he claims is the world's smallest book, and is preparing to submit it to Guinness World Records for verification.
Microminiaturist Vladimir Aniskin, from Novosibirsk in Siberia, spent five years developing the technology to create the book, which measures 70 by 90 micrometres, or 0.07mm by 0.09mm. It then took him a month to create, by hand, two versions. The first, Levsha, is named after Nikolai Leskov's 19th-century story The Steel Flea, in which a craftsman from Tula beats the English by managing to nail flea shoes on the clockwork flea they have created. Aniskin's Levsha contains the names of other microminiaturists who can also, in his words "shoe the flea". His second book, Alphabet, contains the Russian alphabet.
The text is printed using the lithographic process onto sheets of film just three or four microns thick. Aniskin said that the most difficult part of the process was binding the pages together so they can be turned. He used tungsten wires with a diameter of five microns as the "springs" for the pages, placing the finished books into half a poppyseed, displayed on gold plates. The pages, which have text on both sides, can be turned using a sharpened metal needle.
"The book size is 70 by 90 microns and it is 88 times less than the area of the book recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest printed book, and 67 times less than the book area recorded in the Russian Book of Records as the world's smallest," Aniskin told the Guardian, describing previous record holders in Japan, a 0.74 by 0.75mm manuscript entitled Flowers of the Four Seasons, and the smallest book in Russia as recognised by the Russian Book of Records, the 0.644mm by 0.660mm lyrics of the anthem of Russia. Guinness also lists Teeny Ted from Turnip Town by Malcolm Douglas Chaplin, which measures 70 micrometres by 100 micrometres, as the smallest reproduction of a printed book yet made.
Aniskin, who works at the Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics at the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Science, is planning to make 10 books of Levsha and Alphabet.
"I like small things and it was very interesting working on the smallest book," said Aniskin, who started to make microminiatures in 1998, and has previously created a caravan of camels in the eye of a needle, as well as his own shod flea.
"I invent and make tools on my own. While working, I hold my creation in my fingers. Even one's heartbeat disturbs such minute work, so particularly delicate work has to be done between heartbeats," he writes on his website.
© 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
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EurekAlert / 4-Mar-2016
DFG launches German-Russian cooperation in materials research
A new quality of transnational research.
О сотрудничестве немецких и российских вузов в сфере материаловедения по программе РФФИ и Немецкого научно-исследовательского сообщества (DFG).
In Germany, two research groups at TU Dresden and one group at TU Ilmenau will participate. Their undertaking is financially supported by DFG funds. In Russia, universities in Yekaterinburg, Moscow and Perm will partake in the programme, financed by the Russian funding institution RFFI (Russian Foundation for Basic Research - RFBR).
In this project a transnational research group, with 25 participating scientists, will be established. The Russian research groups will contribute their specialised expertise in the area of the theory of magnetic hybrid materials, whereas the focal point of the German groups is on mechanical and magnetic characterisation, microstructure analysis and the technical application of these novel materials.
The programme's goal is to create magnetically controlled elastic materials and to use them for customised sensory applications. "The three years, during which we held preliminary and preparatory talks now lead us to a new quality of cooperation with the Russian colleagues, which has already been excellent for decades", states Prof. Odenbach on the occasion of the programme launch.
"The now commencing, intensive cooperation with distinguished scientists from both countries and the funding by two organisations will be implemented in particular by the established institutional cooperation between DFG and RFFI.", says Dr. Jörn Achterberg, Head of DFG Moscow Office.
"This promising endeavour is a positive result of a joint workshop in Moscow between DFG and RFFI, where impetuses for divers coordinated research projects were given." says Dr. Michael Lentze, responsible Programme Director at the DFG.
Copyright © 2016 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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EurekAlert / 8-Mar-2016
Slower evolution and climate change drove ichthyosaurs to extinction
Группа бельгийских, британских, французских и российских ученых объяснила одну из самых старых загадок палеобиологии - причину резкого вымирания ихтиозавров примерно 94 млн лет назад. Ученые пришли к выводу, что к исчезновению рептилий привело заметное потепление климата с последующим изменением уровня моря и содержания кислорода в воде. Ихтиозавры сменили ареал обитания и пути миграции, но быстро приспособиться к новым условиям не смогли.
Ichthyosaurs - shark-like marine reptiles from the time of dinosaurs - were driven to extinction by intense climate change and their own failure to evolve quickly enough, according to new research by an international team of scientists.
The study provides an explanation for one of the longest-standing enigmas in palaebiology: how and why ichthyosaurs died out. Unlike other marine reptile groups, ichthyosaurs disappeared tens of millions of years before the end-Cretaceous extinction (65 million years ago) that marked the end for dinosaurs and the beginning of the age of mammals.
The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.
First author Dr Valentin Fischer, of the University of Liиge, Belgium, and the University of Oxford, UK, said: "We analysed the extinction of this crucial marine group thoroughly for the first time. We compared the diversity of ichthyosaurs with the geological record of global change, emphasising the dynamics of these datasets. Ichthyosaurs were actually well diversified during the last chapter of their reign, with several species, body shapes and ecological niches present. However, their evolution was much slower than earlier in their history. Additionally, they were seemingly negatively affected by the profound global changes going on during the Cretaceous, as their extinction rate correlates with environmental volatility."
Causes of extinctions - including the demise of the ichthyosaurs, or "sea dragons" - have often remained elusive and conjectural, particularly when they cannot be linked to an obvious geological or geochemical event such as a large meteorite or massive volcanic eruption. Ichthyosaurs were regarded as undiversified for a prolonged period before their extinction, and their dying out has previously been linked to minor events including increased competition with other marine predators and a decline in their assumed principal source of food.
However, using a battery of cutting-edge techniques to quantify ancient biodiversity and its fluctuations, the team was able to reconstruct the evolution of the ichthyosaurs during the last 120 million years of their lifetime and assess the causes of their extinction. The researchers - comprising Belgian, British, French and Russian scientists - demonstrated that before their extinction, ichthyosaurs were in fact highly diverse, both in terms of body shape and ecological role.
A two-phase event then suppressed their ecological diversity and wiped out the group at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago. At that time, the Earth's poles were essentially ice-free, and sea levels were much higher than today. Analyses revealed that this two-phase extinction can be associated both with reduced evolutionary rates (a failure to evolve novel body plans for a prolonged period) and intense climate change (strong variations in sea surface temperatures and sea levels).
Dr Fischer added: "Although the rising temperatures and sea levels evidenced in rock records throughout the world may not directly have affected ichthyosaurs, related factors such as changes in food availability, migratory routes, competitors and birthing places are all potential drivers, probably occurring in conjunction to drive ichthyosaurs to extinction."
This new work supports a growing body of evidence suggesting that a major, global, change-driven turnover profoundly reorganised marine ecosystems at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous, giving rise to the highly peculiar and geologically brief Late Cretaceous marine world. Ichthyosaurs disappeared in the course of this turnover, while numerous lineages of bony fishes and sharks evolved. The extinction of ichthyosaurs thus appears to be one aspect of a larger event - something the team is currently investigating.
Copyright © 2016 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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Deccan Chronicle / Mar 8, 2016
Once extinct, world's last wild horse returns to Russian steppes
Six animals born at a reserve in the south of France are now spending their first winter in Russia's flagship reintroduction project.
В 2015 г. в заповеднике «Оренбургский» запустили программу по созданию в природных условиях популяции лошади Пржевальского, единственного вида диких лошадей, сохранившегося на планете. Сейчас в мире существуют около 2000 особей, все - в зоопарках и заповедниках. Шесть первых лошадей, зимующих в «Оренбургском», привезены из Франции.
Moscow: If the world's only surviving wild horses had a say in the matter, they might opt for a cosy stable and fresh daily oats, scientists studying them joke. But the path out of oblivion for the species known as Przewalski's horse - which only two decades ago was extinct in the wild - lies in getting on a plane to China, Mongolia and, most recently, the Russian steppes with their deep snow and icy winds.
Six animals born at a reserve in the south of France are now spending their first winter in Russia's flagship reintroduction project for the species.
Eventually scientists hope to have 100 of the endangered animals on the site in the Orenburg Reserves, a cluster of six strictly protected nature areas along the border with Kazakhstan. The area spanning more than 16,500 hectares (40,770 acres) is "the largest unbroken, strictly protected plot of virgin steppe in Russia," safeguarded, ironically, by the fact that it belonged to the military for decades, said Przewalski's horse expert Tatjana Zharkikh, who heads the reintroduction project.
They are quite happy
"They are quite happy," she said in an interview, despite the harsh climate in the region, with extreme snowfall which in January trapped several drivers on a local highway, leading to a man's death.
The animals actually enjoy rolling around in the snow, scratching their backs on the crusty surface, she said. "They are not afraid of wind, snow, cold .. If the Przewalski's horse has enough food, it is practically invincible."
Yet, she quipped: "If you ask them, they will tell you: we want a warm stable, daily oats, fresh grass and maybe strawberries and cream. But this is a wild animal and it has to be in its natural habitat."
Despite its hardiness and monumental efforts by conservationists to save the endangered species, there is "still a long way before the Przewalski's horse can be considered saved from extinction," said Frederic Joly of the Association for the Przewalski's horse (TAKH) in France, which provided the animals for the Orenburg project.
Native to China, the stocky, tan-coloured horse with a spiky mane once inhabited the Eurasian steppe extending through Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Bred to be wild
The species was discovered by Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky who described it in the 19th century, leading to a surge of interest in Europe, followed by a brutal campaign to capture these animals.
Herds were chased down to exhaustion to capture the young foals, said Zharkikh, but in the end the process secured enough animals to save the species after they had gone extinct in their natural habitat.
All 2,000 animals existing today are descendants of just 12 wild-caught horses, including a mare from Mongolia called Orlitsa, gifted to Soviet chairman Kliment Voroshilov during a visit in 1957, and breeding a viable population from such a limited gene pool has been a headache.
Adding to that headache is the fact that the Przewalski's horse can breed with domestic horses to produce fertile hybrids, threatening to dilute the species decades down the line.
Although the Russian project meant to set the horses completely free in the wild, scientists eventually rejected this idea as too risky after studying the experience of other reintroduction centres, opting instead to build a fence around the entire area.
The problem is, young mares who venture out of a protected park can breed with horses kept by herders in nearby villages and then bring hybrid offspring back to the population of Przewalski's horses.
"Even a few hybrids can cancel out all conservation efforts," said Zharkikh. "What is the point of protection if they are just cute shaggy-haired horses rather than a species?"
A wild population would only work if the protected area is much larger, she said, 100,000 hectares or even more, and if such a park is created in the future, it can be populated with Przewalski's horses from the project.
"Our goal is to form a reserve of genetically pure animals," said Rafilya Bakirova, director of Orenburg Reserves that hosts the project, dreaming of expanding the project and cross-border cooperation with Kazakhstan. "For now we just want to survive the winter," she said.
Although the species is considered a conservation success, Joly of the TAKH association in France conceded that it is becoming nearly impossible to find a place where Przewalski's horse can be truly wild.
"Even sites that look wild like Russian or Mongolian steppes are not completely devoid of human activity," he said. "It indeed shows that there are very few places with no human influence in the world."
Copyright © Deccan Chronicle. All rights reserved.
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MIT News / March 10, 2016
3Q: Bruce Tidor on the MIT Skoltech partnership
Collaboration has created a pioneering new graduate university in Russia, says project director.
В 2011 году Массачусетский технологический институт (MIT) и только что созданный Сколковский институт науки и технологий (Сколтех) подписали соглашение о сотрудничестве, первый этап которого завершился в феврале этого года.
Интервью с руководителем Отдела по сотрудничеству со Сколтехом, профессором MIT Брюсом Тайдором о достигнутых результатах и планах на будущее.
In 2011 MIT launched a multiyear collaboration to assist Russian partners in building a new university on the outskirts of Moscow, the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech).
MIT faculty have participated in developing Skoltech's educational and research programs, which have a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. The MIT Skoltech Initiative, the operational arm of the collaboration, has thus far involved more than 150 MIT faculty and 60 staff. The first phase of the collaboration has been completed, and the second phase launched on March 1.
Bruce Tidor, a professor of biological engineering and computer science and the director of the MIT Skoltech Initiative, spoke with MIT News about the collaboration's progress to date, the impact of the program, and what the future holds.
Q: What has been achieved at Skolkovo through MIT's involvement?
A: When MIT began work on this project there was no university, there were no buildings, there was no faculty, and there were no students. There was only a handful of highly motivated people guided by a very ambitious plan. Skoltech was intended as the academic engine for a 400-hectare hub of innovation and economic development - the Skolkovo Innovation Center - launched by Russia's president at the time, Dmitry Medvedev.
Now, just over four years since its inception, Skoltech is an active graduate university with outstanding faculty, students, research and education programs, and a fledgling campus. The inaugural class of approximately 50 MS students graduated in June 2015. Multidisciplinary research centers have been established in frontier areas related to information technology, energy, space, and biomedicine, and an innovation ecosystem nurtures capabilities designed to promote entrepreneurship. The major administrative offices and functions are now in place, with staff hired and trained, and policies and procedures in effect.
Much of this has been accomplished with the active assistance and engagement of MIT faculty and staff. An especially important role has been played by MIT Professor Edward Crawley, Skoltech's founding president. (Professor Crawley recently stepped down as president, and the appointment of his successor, Alexander Kuleshov, was announced in February.)
Q: How has MIT participated in the Skoltech project?
A: Collaborative research projects at MIT funded by Skolkovo have connected MIT researchers to important problems and to faculty and other researchers in Russia, and these relationships will likely persist well beyond the terms of the projects. Over 100 talented students from Skoltech have participated in classwork and laboratory research at MIT, sharing their insights and perspectives with our students, staff, and faculty.
Course development for 33 subjects undertaken for Skoltech has also enriched MIT's curriculum. The MISTI-Russia program, expanded student internships in Russia, and the resumption of Russian language teaching at MIT after a long hiatus are all direct outcomes of the collaboration. Learning in areas such as faculty recruitment and development, administrator capacity enhancement, and innovation and entrepreneurship programming can be applied both at MIT and in future major institutional partnerships. Crucial support has also been provided for MIT core activities (including named professorships and endowed chairs). In many ways, large and small, the collaboration to build Skoltech has had substantial beneficial impact at MIT.
Q: What is planned for the future relationship between MIT and Skoltech?
A: MIT's four-year Skoltech collaboration agreement concluded at the end of February 2016. Skoltech now has sufficient academic and administrative personnel and structure to manage its own operations. MIT, the Skolkovo Foundation, and Skoltech have therefore agreed on a second phase of the relationship with reduced scale and a narrower focus on faculty-driven, collaborative projects.
The new agreement, which entered into effect on March 1 and will continue for another three years, features a small, focused set of core activities linked to a flexible capability to set up additional research and educational activities in the future. Three existing research center grants are ongoing, one in functional genomics led at MIT by Professor Daniel Anderson, a second in electrochemical energy storage led by MIT Professor Carl Thompson, and a third in energy systems and power distribution led by MIT Professor Konstantin Turitsyn.
Skoltech will continue to reach out to faculty at MIT to initiate new research activities, each of which will be governed by separate contracts managed within the relevant MIT department, laboratory, or center. To manage the new phase of the relationship, MIT will provide a small central service unit and will establish a faculty coordinating committee under the leadership of Associate Provost for International Activities Richard Lester. To reflect its reduced size and narrower focus, the relationship is being renamed the MIT Skoltech Program.
© Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Wired Magazine / 10.03.16
Russia thinks it can use nukes to fly to Mars in 45 days - if it can find the rubles
Корпорация «Росатом» объявила, что создает ядерный двигатель, который сократит путь на Марс до полутора месяцев - и еще останется топливо на обратную дорогу. Технические характеристики установки озвучены не были, предположительно, это будет нечто вроде деления на тепловых нейтронах. Опытный образец планируется запустить к 2025 году, но вопрос, как всегда, упирается в финансы.
You do not want to go to Mars. At least, not with today's engines powering the trip. A chemically propelled voyage would take 18 months, one way. During which time any combination of boredom, radiation poisoning, and cancer will likely kill you. Suppose you make it? Congratulations on being the first Martian to die of old age, because a return trip from the Red Planet is currently impossible without using wishful logistics like fuel harvesting.
The Russians think they can do better. Last week, their national nuclear corporation Rosatom announced it is building a nuclear engine that will reach Mars in a month and a half - with fuel to burn for the trip home. Russia might not achieve its goal of launching a prototype by 2025. But that has more to do with the country's financial situation (not great) than the technical challenges of a nuclear engine.
Soviet scientists actually solved many of those challenges by 1967, when they started launching fission-powered satellites. Americans had their own program, called SNAP-10A, which launched in in 1965. Ah, the Cold War.
Both countries prematurely quashed their nuclear thermal propulsion programs (Though the Soviets' lasted into the 1980s). "Prematurely" because those fission systems were made for relatively lightweight orbital satellites - not high-thrust, interplanetary vessels fattened with life support for human riders. Nonetheless, "A nuclear contraption should not be too far off, not too complicated," says Nikolai Sokov, senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, CA. "The really expensive thing will be designing a ship around these things."
Nuclear thermal is but one flavor of nuclear propulsion. Rosatom did not respond to questions about their system's specs, but its announcement hints at some sort of thermal fission. Which is to say, the engine would generate heat by splitting atoms and use that heat to burn hydrogen or some other chemical. Burning stuff goes one direction, spaceship goes the other.
The principle isn't too far from chemical propulsion. The fastest chemical rockets produce thrust by igniting one type of chemical (the oxidizer) to burn another (the propellant), creating thrust. Chemical or otherwise, rocket scientists rate propulsion methods based on a metric called Specific Impulse, "Which means, if I have a pound of fuel, for how many seconds will that pound of fuel create a pound of thrust," says Robert Kennedy, a systems engineer for Tetra Tech in Oak Ridge, TN, and former congressional fellow for the US House of Representatives's space subcommittee. For instance, one pound of the chemical mixture powering the Space Launch System - NASA's in utero rocket for the agency's planned mission to Mars - produces about 269 seconds of thrust in a vacuum.
But the outcomes of those two methods are radically different, because chemical rocketry has a catch-22. The faster or farther you want to go, the more fuel you need to pack. The more fuel you pack, the heavier your rocket. And the heavier your rocket, the more fuel you need to bring…
Eventually, the equation balancing thrust to weight plateaus, which is why a year and a half is around the lower time limit for sending a chemically propelled, crewed mission to Mars. (Until Elon Musk's spiritual descendants build asteroid-mined interplanetary fuel stations.) And that's not even considering the incredible cost of launching fuel - about $3,000 a pound. Expensive, but the politics surrounding nuclear make it a harder sell in America, so NASA is stuck with the Space Launch System (and its thirsty fuel tanks) for now.
The engines the Soviets and Americans were developing during the Space Race, on the other hand, had at least double a chemical rocket's specific impulse. Modern versions could likely do even better. Which means spaceships would be able to carry a lot more fuel, and therefore fire their thrusters for a longer portion of the trip to Mars (bonus: artificial gravity!). Even better, a thermal fission spaceship would have enough fuel to decelerate, go into Martian orbit, and even return to Earth.
Calling for a fission mission to Mars is great for inspiring space dreamers, but Russia's planned engine could have practical, near-term applications. Satellites need to fire their thrusters every so often to stay in their ideal orbits (Also, to keep from crashing to Earth). Sokov thinks the main rationale for developing a nuclear thermal engine would be to allow for more of these orbital corrections, significantly increasing a satellite's working lifespan. Fission power would also give probes more maneuverability. "One civilian application is to collect all the space junk," says Sokov. "You are free to think of other, perhaps not as innocent applications."
Russia may have the will to go nuclear, but it probably lacks the means. Rosatom has budgeted roughly 15 billion rubles on the project, which began in 2010 and is scheduled to have a launch-ready vehicle by 2025. That's about $700 million: eyebrow-raisingly cheap for a 15-year long space project. For reference, just the rocket part of NASA's Space Launch System is projected to cost nearly $10 billion.
And those 15 billion rubles don't include the cost of launch, which could be why Rosatom made its 6-weeks-to-Mars announcement last week. "Going public can serve a number of purposes, including getting funding, increasing visibility, things like that from politicians, readers, and others who would like this visionary thing," says Sokov. Rosatom plans to have a land-based test reactor by 2018.
If the Russian Federation does succeed, they won't be stopped by international treaties - which only apply to nuclear weapons. That does not mean the engine would be completely safe, however. Things launched from rockets do not always make it to space, and things in orbit sometimes fall to Earth. In 1978, a nuclear-powered Soviet satellite crashed in northern Canada, spewing radioactive waste over nearly 50,000 square miles. But listen, tovarisch: One does not make omelette without breaking eggs, no?
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News-Medical.net / March 11, 2016
Russian scientists propose new technique to analyze intestinal metagenomes
Ученые из МФТИ и Федерального научно-клинического центра физико-химической медицины предложили новый метод сравнения метагеномов - совокупности последовательностей ДНК в исследуемом биологическом материале. Метод основан на сопоставлении частот k-меров, нуклеотидных «слов» заданной длины k.
A group of Russian scientists, among them staff at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, have proposed a new method for the comparison of metagenome-coupled DNA sequences from all of the organisms in a sample of biological material being investigated. The method makes it possible to more effectively and quickly solve the task of comparing samples and can be easily embedded in the data-analysis process of any metagenome study. The study has been published in the BMC Bioinformatics journal.
The bacteria, which inhabit the human body, hold a special place for scientists in the study of metagenomics. The significance of metagenomics cannot be underestimated: on a rough estimate the bacterial cells in our body outnumber our own by an order of magnitude and most of them are located in the gut. Various global projects, such as the "Human Microbiome Project", have revealed that the composition of the bacterial community affects our risk of disease, the selection of an optimal diet, mood and even creativity. The reverse is true - the composition of these microorganisms is sensitive to processes occurring in the body. Thus, by comparing the sample patient with people with a healthy intestinal metagenome, in the long term it will be possible in future to evaluate the risk of dangerous diseases, such as diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease.
The traditional approach to metagenome analysis is to compare samples on the basis of their taxonomic composition: percentages for each microbial species found. To determine the composition of the sample, its genetic sequences are compared with a database of known bacterial genomes, called the reference set. However, this approach has several disadvantages. Firstly, the reference genomes are often inaccurate, since the composition of the reference genome is a computationally complex and time-consuming task, especially for species that are difficult to cultivate; and the genomes of species isolated in the laboratory can carry a set of genes, which is significantly different from the same species living in a natural environment. Secondly, not all organisms are collected in reference genomes generally; examples of such organisms are viruses. Therefore, that part of the sample sequence, which does not match with the reference sample, is simply not taken into account during the analysis, despite the fact that it can be quite large and significant. Meanwhile, a method based on a comparison of k-mer frequencies does not require recourse to a reference sample or the existence of any information on the organisms studied, and, therefore, all sequences in the sample are subjected to analysis, which gives the best results.
The method is based on representation for an organism genomic sequence as the set with all instances of nucleotide "words" of specified length "k", called k-mers. Because the genome is a unique sequence for each organism, the sets of such "words" also differ between individual organisms. Thus, the set of all k-mers for a metagenome can be viewed as a set of sets, namely of its constituent organisms. This lets us assess the differences in the bacterial composition when comparing samples.
To test the effectiveness of the k-mer technique compared to traditional approaches, two sets of metagenome data were used - a set of real data and a set of artificially generated data.
Artificial data (created from genomes, with proportions known beforehand) is convenient to use when testing the method, as we know the sequence precisely and can assess the result received by comparing it with an a priori correct value. Intestinal metagenomes from residents of the United States and China were used as real data.
It is known that bacterial intestinal communities differ significantly between different populations, and algorithms have claimed to allow us to find, exactly those indicators, which show the difference in composition. Therefore, the criterion for assessing the effectiveness of the method that was considered was the extent to which the metagenomes can be distinguished, that is how much the Chinese metagenomes differ in general from American ones.
The method has shown better results in both data types by comparing k-mers, than when using traditional mapping with a reference set. In addition, when using real data, a mismatch between the intestinal results for k-mer and traditional approaches allowed us to detect another important component of the intestinal metagenome, namely the bacterial phage crAssphage, which had escaped the notice of researchers using the traditional method. According to the author of the article, Dmitri Alexeev: "Interestingly, the genes can be viewed not only as segments of DNA with proteins encoded in them, but also as information in general. It is this information distinction that has allowed us to identify new segments of DNA not described in the catalog of known genes. It is interesting to see how this approach will be used by other research groups".
The developed technique lets us more efficiently and accurately find the differences between the metagenomes for a variety of bacterial communities, which can help to study, diagnose and treat many human diseases.
News-Medical.net. Copyright 2000-2016.
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The Verge / March 14, 2016
Phase one of the ExoMars mission launches to find life on the Red Planet
14 марта состоялся успешный запуск российской ракеты-носителя «Протон» с двумя роботизированными космическими аппаратами, которые в следующие семь месяцев должны долететь до Марса. Таким образом, начался первый этап миссии «Экзомарс», совместного проекта Европейского космического агентства и Роскосмоса. Цель - доставить на Марс исследовательские аппараты и определить, существуют ли там сейчас (или существовали когда-либо) инопланетные формы жизни.
Two robotic spacecraft launched into space on a Russian Proton rocket on Monday, marking the beginning of a seven-month journey to Mars. This is the first phase of the ExoMars mission, a partnership between the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency, or Roscosmos. The goal of the collaboration is to send probes to Mars to determine if the planet is or has ever been home to alien life. The launch took place at 5:31AM ET.
The ExoMars program consists of two launches to the Red Planet: today's and one in 2018. Today's rocket launch carries the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli EDM Lander into space, which will both arrive at Mars in October of this year, according to the ESA. Once there, the Trace Gas Orbiter will put itself into orbit around the planet and measure the types of gases in the atmosphere. Specifically, the orbiter is looking for traces of methane a potential indicator of biological life on the planetary surface below.
The job of the Schiaparelli lander is to descend to the Martian surface and land intact. Its landing is meant to show that the ESA and Roscosmos have the right technologies to gently touch down an object on Mars. It's kind of a trial run for the next ExoMars spacecraft: a rover that will launch in 2018. The rover is designed to explore the planet and dig up dirt samples to look for signs of biology. If Schiapearelli can land intact, the rover that follows it likely will too.
If the ExoMars mission does find evidence of life, the program's researchers hope the discovery will inspire a future trip to Mars that brings samples back to Earth. It's difficult to study samples of Martian soil remotely; the analysis must be done entirely by spacecraft and the resulting data can be hard to translate from afar. But if the samples can be safely returned to Earth, they can be studied in greater detail by experts in our planet's laboratories. "It would be the logical next step," said Hakan Svedhem, an ESA project scientist for the ExoMars mission. "If we find life now on Mars, we'll want to understand what kind of life that is."
Solving the methane mystery
The Trace Gas Orbiter will look for many gases in Mars' lower atmosphere, but researchers are particularly interested in finding methane in the planet's air, according to Svedhem. Up to 90 percent of the methane in Earth's atmosphere comes from the breakdown of biological materials, the ESA notes. The gas's presence surrounding Mars could indicate a past or present life source too.
Methane's existence on the Red Planet has been questioned for decades. NASA's Curiosity rover and the ESA's Mars Express satellite have detected traces of the gas in the planet's atmosphere, and ground-based telescopes spotted methane on Mars in 2003, according to NASA. The detections have been intriguing, since the gas seems to only appear in localized areas on Mars, according to Nick Schneider, a planetary scientist who works on NASA's MAVEN mission. "If you see it in one place, it's a bullseye that says look here for something interesting," said Schneider. "Maybe it's a colony of life that's only survived in a certain region."
However, the methane measurements have also been temporary: the methane spotted by telescopes in 2003 all but disappeared by 2006. And Curiosity measured four big spikes of methane in late 2013, but it has yet to measure the gas again. That's weird, since methane has a lifetime of about 300 to 600 years the length of time it takes for the Sun to break the molecule apart. Scientists don't know why the methane measurements are behaving this way, and that's why some researchers aren't sure the gas is even on Mars. For instance, one expert thinks the Curiosity rover may have just detected methane leaking from the rover itself.
The Trace Gas Orbiter is designed to provide better answers, according to Schneider. "It has the capability to make the detections no one is going to argue with." The spacecraft's instruments will observe the atmosphere against the Sun, analyzing how the light changes the transparency of the gases. This will indicate what the Martian atmosphere is made of, says Svedhem. He notes the instruments are so sensitive, they can even determine if the methane is potentially coming from a biological source. "It's by far the most sensitive type of mission one can do with Mars," he said.
However, it's going to take a while to know what types of gases the Trace Gas Orbiter finds. When the spacecraft reaches Mars, it will be spend over a year slowing down to reach the right speed and altitude for orbit a process known as aerobraking. The probe will start studying the atmosphere once it reaches its intended orbit 250 miles (400 km) above the planet. That's slated to happen sometime in December 2017.
Exploring the floor
The Schiaparelli lander's mission begins as soon as it reaches Mars in October. It will first separate from the Trace Gas Orbiter and begin its dive to the Martian surface three days later, according to the ESA. A heat shield will protect the spacecraft during its initial descent through Mars' atmosphere, and then parachutes will deploy at an altitude of seven miles. Eventually, the heat shield and parachutes are jettisoned, as tiny thrusters on the bottom of the spacecraft ignite. These small engines will make the lander hover just 6.5 feet above the surface; the thrusters will then turn off and Schiaparelli will drop the rest of the way down.
It's a complicated process that slows the lander down from 13,000 miles per hour (21,000 km per hour). Mars' atmosphere is one-hundredth the pressure of Earth's, according to NASA, so there's less air to reduce the speed of a falling object. That's why both parachutes and thrusters are needed to prevent Schiaparelli from crashing into the surface. These landing techniques will all be used to land the future ExoMars rover in 2019 but for a much larger object. The Schiaparelli lander weighs about 1,322 pounds (600 kg), but all the hardware needed to land the 2019 rover on Mars safely will weigh nearly 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg).
Schiaparelli won't have much to do once it lands, though. It doesn't have any solar panels for recharging and its internal battery is only expected to last two to five days. But the lander is still equipped with a few instruments that will measure the weather and surrounding atmosphere during the spacecraft's brief mission. All of the life-finding instruments have been saved for the next rover. That robot will carry a drill that can dig up soil samples up to 6.5 feet below the Martian surface, and a set of nine technologies on board the rover will then analyze those samples for signs of biology.
If ExoMars does find biological samples, it still may not be enough to definitely say that there is life on Mars. "In the short term, if we find that, it's an absolutely, astonishing achievement, but then we may need to characterize it," said Svedhem. It's possible that the rover will find samples of ancient Martian fossils, or it may be that the rover will mistakenly detect organisms brought over from Earth. Researchers would need to do a Mars sample return to know the true origins of any life found on the Red Planet. That way, experts could use laboratory tools here on Earth to pick apart the Martian dirt. But such a mission would be a massive undertaking, requiring an extra rocket that can take off from Mars and a spacecraft to bring the samples safely back to Earth.
Securing funding for a Mars sample return may be more likely depending on what ExoMars digs up. But it's always possible the program may show Mars to be a dead space rock. "I think we'd have to be extremely lucky to find [life]," said Schneider. "And the jury's still out on whether or not life has occurred on Mars even in the past."
© 2016 Vox Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Popular Mechanics / Mar 22, 2016
Did the New Russia-Europe Mars Mission Narrowly Escape a Launch Disaster?
ExoMars is on its way to the Red Planet, but not before a hair-raising turn during the launch.
Успешный старт c космодрома Байконур российской ракеты-носителя «Протон» с космическим аппаратом ExoMars омрачился взрывом разгонного блока через несколько часов после отделения, когда ExoMars еще находился поблизости. Хотя аппарат при взрыве не пострадал, миссия все еще находится под угрозой.
Last week, the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Russian partners celebrated a historic launch as the long-awaited ExoMars spacecraft headed off to the Red Planet to search for potential signs of life. The 4.3-ton dual spacecraft, including the Trace Gas Orbiter which will stay in orbit as well as the lander named Schiaparelli, blasted off on March 14 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Russian Proton rocket.
After the launch reached the initial parking orbit around the Earth, the Proton's fourth stage (known as Briz-M, Russian for "breeze") acted as a space tug, boosting the space probe on a path to Mars with four engine firings. What happened next was a close call that could have ended the mission catastrophically. And ExoMars still isn't out of the woods.
Shortly after the separation between ExoMars and the spent Briz-M, the probe called home, and the ground control center in Darmstadt, Germany, confirmed the mission was on a path to Mars. However, astronomers tracking the flight soon spotted a cloud of debris accompanying ExoMars in space. As many as six large pieces of space junk appeared on the photos taken by the OASI observatory in Brazil.
This was strange. For one thing, the Briz-M was supposed to separate cleanly in one large piece without producing any additional fragments. Secondly, and more importantly, after the separation the space tug was programmed to fire twice to propel itself to a safe disposal orbit as far away from its former cargo as possible. The resulting "graveyard" trajectory would ensure that the "blind and deaf" space tug, now drifting through interplanetary space, would not come anywhere near Mars, where it could contaminate the planet's pristine environment with Earth's bugs. (Unlike Mars landers, rocket stages are not sterilized in accordance with strict international standards.)
According to sources in the Russian space industry, the first of Briz-M's two collision-avoidance maneuvers was to last around 12 seconds. Once it was a safe distance from ExoMars, the rocket stage would fire again, this time for around 1.5 minutes, until the engine consumed all the remaining explosive propellant aboard. Upon completion of the second maneuver, valves would open to vent the high-pressure gas used to force propellant into the engines.
That's what's supposed to happen. The initial info available to Russian tracking experts after the launch of ExoMars indicated that Briz-M had worked as planned. But the latest tracking photos indicate that something happened before the spacecraft had had a chance to go into its graveyard orbit. The situation is complicated by the fact that Russia had no tracking means in the Western section of the Southern hemisphere, over which Briz-M was suppose to perform its maneuvers. The Russian Academy of Sciences previously had agreements to use tracking telescopes in Australia and Bolivia, but both facilities were apparently out of commission at the time of the ExoMars launch.
And history includes a few examples of the Briz-M's going wrong after launch. A Briz-M that delivered a secret military satellite into orbit on December 13 then exploded on January 16. It continues to sporadically eject gas from its damaged tanks, tracking experts say. A careful analysis of visible debris from that disaster suggests that one of the high-pressure tanks on the stage was sheered off. The most likely explanation for that is the failure to vent its gas and propellants into space. Sunlight could have heated up contents, triggering an explosion.
What is especially worrying about the latest accident is that Briz-M apparently exploded after just 10.5 hours in space, when its ExoMars cargo was still in the vicinity. The good news is that ExoMars appears to be undamaged by whatever happened to its space tug, but the mission is not out of the woods yet.
On March 17, ground control completed the early activation of the spacecraft with only most critical systems running. This week, European engineers are scheduled to begin the commissioning various service systems on board the probe. Four sensitive scientific instruments, which are the main reason for the flight, are not expected to be fully online until April. Only then can mission officials could breath a sigh of relief and declare the spacecraft ready to explore the Red Planet.
In the meantime, Briz-M, or whatever is left of it, continues its aimless trek into deep space, carrying its mystery with it.
© 2016 Hearst Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Science Codex / March 18, 2016
Where did the "Siberian unicorn" disappear?
Палеонтологи из Томского государственного университета обнаружили, что доисторический носорог эласмотерий, считавшийся вымершим 350 тыс. лет назад, на самом деле еще жил и здравствовал на территории современного Казахстана и юге Западной Сибири всего 26-29 тыс. лет назад.
The beautiful title "Siberian unicorn" belongs to Elasmotherium sibiricum - an elasmotherium Siberian rhinoceros, which as previously thought became extinct 350,000 years ago. Nowadays the researchers of Tomsk State University (TSU) figured out that the "unicorn" found his last refuge "only" 29,000 years ago in Kazakhstan. The article, describing the new location of the fossil mammals in the Pavlodar Irtysh, was published in February 2016 in the American Journal of Applied Science.
"Most likely, in the south of Western Siberia it was a refúgium, where this rhino had preserved the longest in comparison with the rest of its range. There is another option that it could migrate and dwell for a while on the more southern areas," said Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at TSU. These conclusions were made due to research of the rhinocero's skull, found near Kozhamzhar village in Pavlodar region (Kazakhstan). The skull is well preserved: there are some cracks but no trace of pelletization, gnawing, and exfoliation. The fossils of the "unicorn" were examined by radiocarbon AMS-method analysis in the laboratory 14CHRONO Centre for Climate, the Environment, and Chronology (School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology; Queen's University Belfast; Belfast, UK). It turned out that the skull belonged to the animals that died 29,000 years ago. "Most likely, it was a very large male of very large individual age (teeth not preserved). The dimensions of this rhino today are the biggest of those described in the literature, and the proportion are typical," said the University's scientist.
Elasmotherium sibiricum supposed to be extinct about 350,000 years ago. Its habitat was the vast territory from the Don River to the east of modern Kazakhstan. Overview Elasmotherium residue findings in the Pavlodar Irtysh showed quite a long existence of these rhinos in the southeast of the West Siberian Plain. An extinction period of the "unicorn" can now be compared with the boundary between Kargin thermochron and Sartan cryochron of late pleistocene (boundary of MIS 3 and 2) in Western Siberia. These data are pushing us for mass radiocarbon studies of mammalian remains that were previously known as ancient and extinct more than 50-100,000 years ago. "Our research makes adjustments in the understanding of the environmental conditions in the geologic time in general. Understanding of the past allows us to make more accurate predictions about natural processes in the near future: it also concerns climate change," summed up Shpanski.
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EurekAlert / 21-Mar-2016
New way to treat cancer and vessel diseases
A discovery of cell biologists enables creation of new cancer and vessel medicines.
Биологи из МГУ обнаружили новый способ регуляции подвижности клеток посредством протеинкиназы LOSK (Long Ste20-like Kinase), ранее открытой в НИИ физико-химической биологии имени А.Н.Белозерского. Результаты работы помогут в создании новых лекарственных препаратов для лечения онкологических заболеваний и болезней сосудов.
Статья «SLK/LOSK kinase regulates cell motility independently of microtubule organization and Golgi polarization» опубликована в журнале Cytoskeleton.
Cell biologists from the Lomonosov Moscow State University discovered a new way of regulating of cell motility - this discovery will make possible development of new drugs for curing onco- and vessel diseases. The study was published in the Cytoskeleton journal.
The Lomonosov Moscow State University scientists find that protein kinase LOSK (discovered earlier in one of the A.N. Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology's laboratories) regulates an intracellular distribution of dynactin - a complex protein, necessary for retrograde intercellular transport. According to Anton Burakov, one of the research's authors, the results can help to create new medicine for cure oncology and vessel diseases.
Cellular motility defines a broad variety of vital processes for a cell and the whole organism: for instance, embryogenesis (an initial stage of the development of a fetus) and angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels). Those processes require reorganization and polarization of actin (a protein of muscles) and microtubules - hollow cylindrical structures of eukaryotic cells building a cytoskeleton. A cytoskeleton provides a cell with a mechanical frame, helps organelles' transportation and also enables cellular locomotion - contractile proteins belong not only to muscles, but also to other tissues of living organisms.
The brand new and previously unknown regulator of cell motility is a protein kinase LOSK (Long Ste20-like Kinase), also known as SLK. As other protein kinases, SLK/LOSK modifies proteins by phosphorylation, which may change its fermentative activity, position in a cell and interaction with other proteins. SLK/LOSK was discovered earlier in this laboratory in A.N. Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology - a subdivision of MSU.
A team of Russian scientists from the A.N. Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology researches molecular mechanisms defining the architecture and the structure of the main cell transport system - microtubule network. Microtubules in a cell play a role of "roads" transporting particles - this transportation becomes possible due to motor proteins (dynein and kinesins).
During the study multiple genetic constructions were built using molecular cloning technology. Those constructions were further transfected into animal cells (mostly to the cells from a green monkey's kidney). The movements of genetically modified cells and its neighbors into experimental wound were filmed using a special microscope equipped with a heating system. Meanwhile the morphology of cytoskeletal structures was also studied, as well as a content of a number of proteins in cytoplasm. The cells were also affected by specific inhibitors.
It was noticed that LOSK is able to regulate an intracellular distribution of dynactin- a complex protein necessary for an intracellular transportation. Dynactin regulate the activity of dynein and its connection to microtubules and a centrosome. A centrosome is the main microtubuleorganization center, playing a vital role in a cell division process. Usually, a cell contains one or two centrosomes, while malignant cells contain remarkably more.
Anton Burakov, Doctor of Science in biology, senior research fellow of the A.N. Belozersky Research Institute, comments: "The main result of the study is that we managed to separate two independent rows of events, started by SLK/LOSK protein, and to show that one of those processes leads to building a radial microtubule array, and the other - to a directed cell movement. Previously, it was assumed that a directed movement of cells depends on the microtubule architecture. Apart from the above mentioned embryogenesis and angiogenesis, cellular motility also defines the processes of cancerogenesis, wound healing and immune response. Microtubules pose a target to cytostatics - medicines used to cure cancer diseases. The conclusion of the study is that regulation of cellular movement is independent from regulation of a microtubule organizing center".
Studying of cellular motility is a prospective topic, as this process is crucial for vital activities of human and animals. Apart from that, ways of regulation are obviously different in normal and tumor cells, which allows further research.
"Our results can already be used for further research in this field. Application of the results in medical practice (elaboration of certain inhibitors of motility for oncotherapy or specific motility stimulators for vessel diseases) depends on a corresponding legal basis", tells Anton Burakov.
Copyright © 2016 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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The Planetary Society / 2016/03/23
Russia approves its 10-year space strategy
Правительство России окончательно одобрило космическую программу на ближайшие десять лет.
After months of delays, the Russian government finally approved the nation's 10-year space program worth 1.406 trillion rubles ($20.5 billion) last week. Officially known as the Federal Space Program 2016-2025, or FKP-2025 for short, the document was in development for about two years and spent many more months in deliberations among various federal agencies involved in space activities.
The final package includes annual projected budgets for most civilian space projects and the timeline for their implementation. FKP-2025 supercedes the previous 10-year plan, which covered Russian space activities from 2006 to 2015.
"This is a sizable program, but we need such large undertakings even when it is not all easy in the economy," said the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the conclusion of his cabinet meeting on Thursday, March 17, where the program got a formal approval.
The final space budget is a shadow of its 2,315.3-billion ($56.4 billion) draft proposal circulated in the spring of 2014, before falling oil prices, the annexation of Crimea, and the resulting western sanctions sent the Russian economy into recession and forced Moscow to cut spending across the board. The very fact that the program was approved two and half months after the first year it covers had already started is evidence of tough battles the Russian space industry had to fight for each line item in the document.
Postponed were ambitious plans to build a giant super-heavy rocket, which would enable Russia to land its cosmonauts on the Moon by the end of 2020s and begin building a permanent base there. Even a relatively modest proposal to partially switch the new-generation Angara family of rockets from kerosene to more potent hydrogen fuel had to be delayed, potentially undermining the traditional Russian competitiveness on the international market of launch services. On the plus side, the cost-cutting apparently prompted Roskosmos to streamline its large and disparate fleet of launch vehicles from eight to just two families: Soyuz and Angara. Only six variations of these two types of rockets will remain instead of current 12.
According to the head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov, who outlined the program during the government cabinet meeting, the Russian orbital assets will grow from the current 49 operational spacecraft to 73 by the end of the projected period in 2025. (For comparison, the Spring 2014 draft of FKP-2025 aimed to buy 180 spacecraft.)
Both the government officials and Roskosmos stressed that the first priority for the program will be communications and broadcasting satellites. According to Komarov, the Russian constellation of communications satellites will grow from 32 to 41 under the projected funding. The bandwith of the communications channels carried through space was promised to increase 1.3 times and broadcasting capabilities would grow 3.3 times, officials said. In the meantime, Russia's "eyes in the sky" and other remote-sensing satellites will multiply from eight to 23 during the same period.
In the field of human space flight, the Kremlin still promises to complete the assembly of the Russian segment of the International Space Station, which has remained unfinished since the turn of this century. Up to this point, a total of three new modules were slated to join the ISS: the Multi-purpose Laboratory Module, MLM; the Node Module, UM; and a new-generation laboratory and power supply facility dubbed NEM-1. However, during the approval meeting, Komarov stressed that only the modules in "high degree of readiness or under assembly" would be launched by 2024, when the ISS is to be deorbited. Such phrasing seemingly applies to the MLM, and the UM, but not to the NEM-1, which currently exists only on paper with a launch date projected for 2019. Also peculiar, Komarov mentioned that all new modules would be "upgraded" to function as an independent new Russian space station after the retirement of the ISS. Although such plans are not new, this statement could hint about further delays in the launch of the MLM and the UM modules until now expected in 2017 and 2018.
Also, according to the approved strategy, Moscow still remains committed to shifting human space launches from Baikonur in Kazakhstan, to the new spaceport in Vostochny in the Russian Far East. Such a move would require a new launch pad for the human-rated version of the Angara rocket. The new facility is promised to be ready in 2021, even though at this point, the site is no more than a clearing in the taiga. Even more challenging under the current budget crunch will be to complete the development of the new-generation spacecraft to replace the Soyuz capsule. The new ship was designed primarily for deep-space missions, such as expeditions to the Moon. However, while all the big rockets remain on the ice, Roskosmos will have to be content with destinations in Earth orbit or, more likely, to postpone the project until better days.
Komarov promised to launch the uncrewed prototype of the Soyuz replacement in 2021 and to send the first crew to the ISS aboard the new ship in 2023. The Moon landing still remains the strategic goal of the Russian human space flight but with a tentative launch date in 2030, or five years beyond FKP-2025.
Still, Roskosmos pledged to go ahead with its robotic lunar probes, which include progressively more complex orbiting and landing missions. The ultimate goal of the project is to return soil samples from the polar regions of our natural satellite in the hope of scooping possible traces of lunar ice. No launch dates for these missions were mentioned during the approval meeting.
However, given the likely delay of the flagship ExoMars-2018 mission to 2020 and its highest priority in the program, all lunar missions will likely be pushed well into the next decade.
A pair of astrophysics research satellites also made it into the program. Vladimir Fortov, the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which formulates Russia's space science program, assured that fundamental science projects had not been significantly cut. He clearly referred to the Spektr-RG X-ray observatory and the Spektr-UF ultraviolet telescope. They are scheduled for launch in 2017 and 2021, respectively.
However, even after all the latest budget cuts, the Russian space program is not out of the woods yet. Because FKP-2025 is a long-term roadmap, not an actual budget, it is completely dependent on the performance of the Russian economy and on the amount of money in the treasury. Moreover, due to heavy dependence on imports of sophisticated electronics and other components, many Russian space projects are particularly sensitive to the currency exchange rate. For example, the originally proposed 10-year budget at the amount of 2.3 billion rubles ballooned to 2.8 billion in just few months of 2015, as a result of the ruble's devaluation on the international market.
Those who want to know what is going to happen to the Russian space budget next, better watch oil prices and the value of ruble.
In an interview last year on the sidelines of the International Astronautics Congress, IAC, Komarov told me that the real space budget for Roskosmos is projected for just three years ahead and approved by the Kremlin only for the following year. As a silver lining, this also means that in case the Russian economy improves in the years to come, the space budget will grow accordingly. Banking on the better days ahead, FKP-2025 reserved an entitlement for an additional 115 billion rubles after 2022.
© Copyright 2015.
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Science Codex / March 24, 2016
They're red hot
Тепловой шок - один из наиболее изученных факторов клеточного стресса, но о его отсроченных последствиях известно гораздо меньше. Ученые из МГУ и Института биологии гена РАН установили, что тепловой шок наиболее сильно влияет на клетки в ранней синтетической фазе, временно останавливая удвоение ДНК и активируя клеточное старение. В дальнейшем изучение механизма спровоцированного стрессом старения клеток может помочь в разработке новых методов лечения онкологических заболеваний.
A heat shock (or stress) is one of the most studied factors of a cell stress, though its delayed effects remain largely unknown. According to two articles by Russian scientists (an article from the 1st of July 2015 in Nucleic Acids Research was continued with a February article in Cell Cycle, a heat shock mostly influences the cells at an early synthetic phase, and not only temporarily stops the DNA replication, but also causes some more serious consequences. According to one of the authors, Sergey Razin, head of the molecular biology department of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the results of the research may help developing new methods for curing cancer.
When a cell breaks forks
Our cell just as we ourselves can be subject to stress, but unlike ours, cellular stress is caused by heat, cold, lack of oxygen, changes in acidity level, inflammation, infection or toxins, irradiation with x-rays or ultraviolet light.
"We have demonstrated that an acute heat stress triggers development of cellular senescence in normal and cancer human cells that are at an early S-phase of a cell cycle. We identified the mechanism by which a heat stress induces cellular senescence. The reason for a heat stress-induced senescence is persistent DNA damage response, connected with a formation of difficult-to-repair double-stranded DNA breaks," tells Sergey Razin, head of the Molecular Biology Department, the Lomonosov Moscow State University, and head of the laboratory, Institute of Gene Biology, Russian Academy of Science, PhD in biology, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and co-author of both articles.
Using a wide range of methods Russian scientists from MSU and Institute of Gene Biology, RAS, showed that a cell under stress is able to "break forks". The forks here, though, are not a metal flatware: that is how the structures in double-stranded DNA are called when the double helix it is split so that each strand could serve as a template for the synthesis of a new DNA chain (so proceeds the DNA doubling). This duplication of DNA is based on a complementary principle stating that each nucleotide - a "letter" of a DNA being synthesized- is selected based on the type of nucleodide present in this position in the template chain.
It was discovered that a heat shock suppresses the activity of topoisomerase I that relaxes a DNA during replication by cutting one of the two strands. That leads to breaks in one strand, and when a replication fork reaches the same spot, the other strand becomes also broken. As the special "repairing" proteins consider similar parts of the second strand, with them both damaged, a DNA is extremely difficult to repair.
One more exciting outcome of this study, according to Sergey Razin, is "a demonstration that genetically identical cells may differ dramatically both in resistance to exogenous stress factors and a type reaction to various stresses."
Just as a stress influences a person differently during their lifetime, a damage that cell would suffer from life's troubles depends on its stage in the cell cycle. So, they are worth considering precisely.
Childhood, adolescence, youth, mitosis
The lifetime of each somatic (other than reproductive) cells of our body is varying largely depending on its peculiarities: erythrocytes (biconcave red blood cells) live about 120 days, epithelial cells lining the inside of the intestine - about 1-2 days, while neurons and striated muscle tissue cells - just as long as an organism. Fast-living cells are constantly dividing to provide a sufficient replacement, while long-livers never or almost never do.
With all that diversity, somatic cells (not only in human, but also in animals and plants) may be said to have four phases of a cell cycle: G1, S, G2 (together making in interphase), and mitosis (a division phase, which results in building two absolutely similar daughter cells, inheriting a chromatid - one half of a mother's chromosome). During the G1, pre-synthetic phase, a cell growth takes place, and the cell is prepared for DNA doubling (replication): having received a half of a chromosome, a cell needs to complete it by itself, in order to pass it to the next generation. The doubling (a synthesis, hence the name - synthetic phase) happens in the S-phase. Avoidance of mistakes in copying genetic information is under a strict control of the p53 protein: when a DNA is damaged it boosts production of the p21 protein, which is connected to complex of cyclin and cyclin-dependent kinases, responsible for initiating the next stage of the cycle. This delays the start of the S-phase for repair enzymes to have time to fix damage. Then follows the G2 phase during which a cell grows and prepares itself to a future division. At this stage a DNA is subject again to a mandatory "inspection", and then mitosis starts. After mitosis each of the "newborn" cells goes through G1 stage, and a cycle repeats.
Breaking away from Saṃsāra
Some cells leave a row of divisions, hovering in the G0 phase (which, in a first approximation, is G1 phase extended to an eternity). But for the remaining ones the "wheel of becoming" also is not endless: after approximately 52 divisions (the so-called Hayflick limit, named after Leonard Hayflick who discovered it in 1961) a cell is aging, becoming indifferent to a "secular mess", leaves the wheel of life, stops mitosis, and eventually dies. But when a DNA in a cell is damaged so that it is hard to repair, it appears reasonable to withdraw this cell from the cycleinstead of copying a damaged genetic code, creating generations of mutants, which can finally lead to inflammations and development of cancer tumors.
"Basing on the cell reaction to a heat stress, we formulated a model of a cell senescence induction, which is true to many DNA-damaging agents. According to this model, any DNA damage (single- or double-stranded break) happening at an early S-phase may lead to initiation of a cell senescence program" - tells Sergey Razin.
The value of the research in the area is ambiguous. On the one hand, scientists aspire to prevent aging of normal cells: to help them resist stress and function as long as possible (within their natural functions, of course). On the other hand, a controlled start of cellular senescence helps those gone "off the rails" of a genetic program vigorously dividing cancer cells find their ways to a nirvana. That is why finding a suitable "Occam's razor", that would force defective cells to stop dividing and multiplying entities, is vital while curing oncologic diseases.
"Disclosure of the mechanisms of the cellular senescence induced by a mild genotoxic (DNA-damaging) stress appears to be important both for understanding the reasons and mechanisms of a organismal aging, and a better understanding of a cell response variability to exogenous and endogenous stress factors. This research also casts light to multiple previously unattended effects of DNA-damaging agents (for instance, camptothecin) which are often used in a tumor therapy. Theoretically, the results of the study may lay a basis to an optimization of existing protocols of simultaneous application of hyperthermia and chemotherapeutic agents for curing oncologic diseases", Sergey Razin concludes.
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Spaceflight Now / March 28, 2016
Soyuz aces test campaign at new Vostochny Cosmodrome
Завершены испытания пусковых установок на космодроме Восточный. Предполагается, что первый запуск состоится в конце апреля.
Russian technicians have finished tests of launch facilities at the Vostochny Cosmodrome ahead of the first liftoff from the new Siberian spaceport as soon as next month, Roscosmos announced Friday.
The product of a multibillion-dollar investment by the Russian government, the new launch base is located in Russia's Amur region near the Chinese border about 3,400 miles (5,500 kilometers) east of Moscow. It will eventually host most of the launches currently taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as Russia aims to base more of its space missions from its own territory.
Ground crews rolled out the Soyuz-2.1a rocket assigned for the first flight from Vostochny to its launch pad at dawn March 21.
The rollout from a nearby assembly building marked the start of a week of ground tests and functional checks between the Soyuz rocket, its Volga upper stage and the newly-constructed launch pad.
A hydraulic lift erected the Soyuz booster vertical atop its launch mount, then the facility's mobile service gantry wheeled into position around the rocket for electrical testing.
On March 22, another round of comprehensive checks focused on the electromagnetic compatibility between the rocket and Vostochny's ground systems. Ground teams transferred the launch pad's mobile service tower to its launch position to allow the cosmodrome's communications station to receive telemetry from the rocket. The day's tests concluded with the retraction of the launch pad's fueling and umbilical masts to demonstrate their function, according to Roscosmos.
The Soyuz launch team simulated loading kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the three-stage rocket March 23, Roscosmos reported in a press release. The next day, engineers rehearsed launch abort procedures at Vostochny.
The rocket returned to its integration building Friday for final prelaunch checks and the attachment of its three satellite payloads.
The satellites include the 1,170-pound (531-kilogram) Aist 2D spacecraft, made by TsSKB Progress in partnership with Samara State Aerospace University, which will demonstrate a new small spacecraft design with a high-resolution hyperspectral imaging camera. Aist 2D also carries an innovative radar operating in P-band, a wavelength that penetrates through forest canopies and Earth's surface to study underground structures.
Another spacecraft aboard the first launch from Vostochny comes from students at Lomonosov Moscow State University. Named for Mikhailo Lomonosov, an 18th century Russian scientist and writer, the spacecraft will weigh nearly 1,000 pounds (about 450 kilograms) at liftoff, according to the mission's website.
The Mikhailo Lomonosov satellite will study high-energy cosmic rays and gamma-ray bursts, the most powerful explosions in the universe astronomers believe come from the collapse of massive stars at the end of their lives.
Other sensors on the spacecraft will look at Earth's magnetosphere, the bubble that protects the planet from harmful solar and cosmic radiation. A tiny student-built CubeSat the size of a shoebox will also launch on the Soyuz-2.1a rocket.
The launch date has not been confirmed, but several reports point to a preliminary target date around April 25.
© 1999-2016 Spaceflight Now Inc.
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Phys.org / March 29, 2016
MIPT's scientists develop Russia's first two-qubit quantum circuit
Ученые из МФТИ создали и протестировали сверхпроводящую двухкубитную схему. Это устройство является дальнейшим развитием созданного ранее кубита - основного элемента будущих квантовых компьютеров. В отличие от элементов обычных компьютеров, которые могут хранить только один бит, единицу или ноль, кубиты способны кодировать сразу и то, и другое.
A research group from MIPT's Artificial Quantum System Lab and Collective Use Center developed and tested Russia's first superconducting, two-qubit, feedback-controlled circuit, an upgrade to qubits, the main components of future quantum computers, developed by MIPT scientists in 2015.
Modern computing components can only store one data bit at a time - 1 or 0. Qubits, as quantum objects existing in a superposition of two states, have the potential to store both. Moreover, they serve as an example of quantum entanglement, offering game-changing techniques for data processing. A computer made of thousands of qubits has the capacity to surpass the most powerful supercomputers in a large number of computing tasks such as cryptography, artificial intelligence and optimisation of complex systems.
A year ago, a research group developed Russia's first qubit along with a parameter measuring circuit. The two-qubit circuit is currently being developed and tested by Russian scientists from MIPT. "In the past 6 months, MIPT's lab has done substantial and laborious work to organise the measuring process of superconducting qubits. Arguably, MIPT currently has the necessary infrastructure and human capacity to deliver on building advanced qubit systems," says Alexey Dmitriyev, a postgraduate at AQS.
Dmitry Negrov, Deputy Head at the Collective Use Center, says, "We now are at the stage where system parameters are close to the designed conditions. The next step is to take vital measurements, such as coherence time, and refine the qubit bonding. We aim to continue our work on these parameters in the future".
According to Andrey Baturin, Head of Scientific Management at MIPT, quantum technology research is one of the long-term priorities on the institute's research agenda. "The Artificial Quantum System Lab and Collective Use Center succeeded in obtaining unique equipment - modern lithographic machines and evaporation units for full-cycle production of qubits and, later, qubit systems; measuring equipment and ultra-low temperature cryostats that allow us to work with qubits at the milli-Kelvin temperature range. Such low temperatures are essential due to the extreme fragility of quantum states that can easily fail from interaction with the outside environment," says Baturin.
The development of two-qubit circuits is an important achievement that allows further field research and raises Russia's stance in the global quantum computing race.
© Phys.org 2003-2016, Science X network.
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University World News / 31 March 2016
Science centre to be hybrid of Harvard and Silicon Valley
Правительство России одобрило проект по созданию на юго-западе Москвы технологической долины "Воробьевы горы". Основными элементами станут технопарк, центры прикладных исследований, исследовательские и инжиниринговые центры и центры коллективного пользования оборудованием. Резиденты получат налоговые и другие льготы по аналогии с резидентами "Сколково".
The Russian government has approved a project for the establishment of a large-scale research and technology valley in the centre of Moscow, according to a spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science.
The new facility will incorporate the Shuvalov Building of the Moscow State University, as well as the university's library and the Russian Academy of Sciences, and will be the largest scientific and technological centre in Russia. It will include scientific institutions and laboratories, dormitories, medical centres and other infrastructure.
The facility will be known as Sparrow Hills and will be located on Sparrow Hills, hills on the right bank of the Moskva River and one of the highest points in Moscow.
It will focus on research activities and the commercialisation of scientific developments and, according to state plans, will be a hybrid of Harvard and Silicon Valley.
The initiative for the establishment of a new technological valley was first put forward by Viktor Sadovnichy, head of the Moscow State University, in 2013 and was supported by the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The volume of investments in the project is estimated at RUB110 billion (US$1.6 billion). It is planned that the new technological valley will be officially opened by the beginning of 2019. The Russian government approved a federal law establishing the development in the past fortnight. It also has to be passed by MPs but this is expected to be a formality.
Sadovnichy said this will not be a common technical park, but a large research and scientific valley, where university students will be taught and research and development, or R&D, activities conducted.
"The new technological valley will have its own scientific laboratories and research centres that will focus on the design of unique, original products and developments," he said.
Progress to date
To date, the concept of the project has been completed, while its design took place with the participation of Innopraktika company, Russia's research and consulting company, headed by Katerina Tikhonova, a well-known Russian businesswoman, who is rumoured to be one of the two daughters of President Putin (details of Putin's family life are kept hidden from the public).
Direct implementation of the project will be conducted by a state management company that will be especially established by the Russian government, while the boundaries of the new facility will also be defined by the state.
All the participants and residents of the valley will have an exclusive focus on R&D activities, and will receive the same benefits as residents of Skolkovo, a high technology business area planned for Skolkovo near Moscow, which is being developed by the Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, but at a much slower rate than expected due to the economic crisis.
These include tax and customs benefits for the importation of goods, research equipment and foreign technologies. Residents of the valley will be exempted from VAT and income tax. It will provide a relief from property taxes, as well as favourable terms of hiring of foreigners. Finally, similar to Skolkovo, certain powers of state bodies will be limited within the territory of the valley. The project has already received the support of the Russian federal government and the Moscow city authorities.
Natalia Sergunina, deputy mayor of the department of economic policy and property in the Moscow city government, who is directly responsible for implementing the project, said: "The Moscow city authorities will support the implementation of the project. This may take place through the adoption of special federal law regulating the construction of scientific and innovation facilities, the design of which is expected to be completed already in the coming weeks."
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