- Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
According to a report by Quartz, NASA is dishing out $125,000 in grant money to help Anjan Contractor develop a 3D food printer.
Contractor received the six month grant from NASA to create a prototype of his universal food synthesizer. The mechanical engineer plans to build a 3D printer capable of providing nutritionally-appropriate meals synthesized one layer at a time from cartridges of powder and oils.
The powder the system uses has a shelf-life of 30 years and contains either sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building blocks for nutrition. He hopes his idea could be a solution to the growing population on Earth not having a sufficient amount of food.
“I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently,” Contractor told Quartz. “So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.”
Pizza is one of the foods Contractor believes he can print off because it can be printed in distinct layers, requiring the print head to extrude one substance at a time. First, the printer will begin laying down a layer of dough that is baked at the same time it is being printed through a heated plate at the bottom of the printer. After this step, it will lay down a tomato base, and finally the "protein layer" will be applied.
According to Quartz, Contractor's printer is still at the conceptual stage, but he plans to begin building it within the next two weeks.
“Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life,” Contractor told Quartz. “The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.”
He and his team are initially focusing on applications for long-distance space travel, but his eventual goal is to turn the system into a design that can be licensed to someone who wants to turn it into a business.
“One of the major advantage of a 3D printer is that it provides personalized nutrition,” Contractor told Quartz. “If you’re male, female, someone is sick—they all have different dietary needs. If you can program your needs into a 3D printer, it can print exactly the nutrients that person requires.”
Printing food is a creative concept for the future of 3D printing, but it is not necessarily the weirdest. Researchers from Oxford University are developing a printer that can create materials with several of the properties of living tissues. Their design could become a new technology for delivering drugs to places where they are needed and potentially could replace damaged human tissues.
- redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Good news for those who aren’t getting enough caffeine in their coffee, sodas, energy drinks, chewing gum, waffles, marshmallows, or other snacks and drinks – you may soon be able to get a dose of the stimulant while performing basic dental hygiene tasks!
Yes, according to the Huffington Post, Colgate-Palmolive has filed a patent application for an oral care device that could administer chemicals when it comes into contact with a person’s mouth or teeth.
Among the substances listed as those that could potentially be delivered through the toothbrush is – you guessed it – caffeine, which is listed in the patent as a “homeopathic teething or inflammation soothing additive.”
Other substances which could be administered by the toothbrush include various flavors, capsaicin (a substance found in chili peppers that could be used to create a warming sensation), appetite suppressants, or painkillers like benzocaine (which could be for teething children), Gawker reporter Maggie Lange explained.
Each of the device’s chemical-releasing patches would last approximately three months, according to the Daily Mail, and the different types of brushes would be differentiated by different shaped tongue cleaners. In other words, an apple-shaped one would be apple flavored, a snowflake would release a substance that would provide a cooling sensation, and a candle or flamethrower would indicate that the brush would release a warming substance.
“While Colgate could not be reached for comment about the potential for bringing the product to market, it shows startling innovation for a company selling a dental-cleaning implement that has gone conceptually unchanged for more than 500 years,” said Rich Abdill of the website Motherboard.
“But this innovation comes at a turbulent time for the ‘caffeinate everything’ movement,” he added, referring to Wrigley’s decision to remove their caffeinated “Alert” gum off the market pending FDA research into the product.
As for the regulatory agency’s stance on Colgate’s proposed toothbrush, Abdill said that it is “unclear” and that “trying to find someone at the organization to speculate proved to be less than fruitful… Standard toothbrushes don’t need to wait for FDA approval to be sold, so long as their design is submitted to the agency.”
- redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Japanese researchers have created two new automatons – a female humanoid and a dog robot – that alert those suffering from smelly body odor or bad breath, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported this week.
The female robot, dubbed Kaori, resembles a woman's head and measures the operator's breath, declaring an "emergency" if it registers in the worst category. The dog robot, Shuntaro, growls when it detects stinky feet.
The robots were developed by the Japanese company CrazyLabo and the Kitakyushu National College of Technology, and utilize commercially available sensors.
Artificial olfaction sensors - or electronic noses - have been commercially available since the early 1990s, when British researchers first brought the products to market.
When a subject breathes into the mouth of Kaori, her responses range from "It smells like citrus" to “Yuck! You have bad breath!” to "There's an emergency taking place that's beyond the limit of my patience."
Meanwhile, Shuntaro nods its head while analyzing the smell of an operator’s feet. If the odor is not too strong it cuddles up to the user and plays Beethoven's Fifth Symphony out of its speakers. But if the feet smell stronger, it makes a growling sound, and if the odor is even worse the robotic dog appears to collapse and pass out.
Both robots use gas sensors capable of creating a chemical fingerprint that can be matched to specific odors, and the data processed by embedded computers that control the robots’ responses.
Kaori and Shuntaro mark the first products to be announced by CrazyLabo, which plans to generate revenue from renting the robots out to events.
The company’s chief executive, Kennosuke Tsutsumi, said he was inspired to build the machines in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which struck the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.
Tsutsumi, 47, lived far from the disaster-hit region, but had repeatedly visited the area on business and felt he had to do something.
“I was left speechless,” he told the newspaper after viewing the post-quake wreckage as he drove across northeastern Japan two months after the tragedy.
That’s when he became inspired with the idea of making a robot that could make people smile and laugh again.
With his family members repeatedly complaining about his bad breath and smelly feet, Tsutsumi came up with Kaori-chan and Shuntaro-kun after meeting with Takashi Takimoto, a mechanical engineering associate professor at the Kitakyushu National College of Technology.
Takimoto, 32, and his students created computer programs and collected samples of odors to develop the two robots. Ten male students repeatedly measured levels of odors using socks they had worn for two days, and also ate various foods with characteristic smells, such as garlic.
After working a few months on the project, they completed the two androids in February.
CrazyLabo is considering visiting the Tohoku region with them, as well as leasing and showing them to the public.
“I want to continue to produce things that make people laugh and create a good atmosphere,” Tsutsumi said.
According to BBC News, Dr. James Covington of Biomedical Sensors Laboratory at the University of Warwick, the first to develop a commercial electronic nose, said several medical companies are also working to harness the technology.
The Dutch company Enose is developing Aeonose, a smell-based diagnostic kit that helps screen for tuberculosis, asthma and throat cancer, while US-based Alpha Szsenszor is working on equipment to study human breath to detect lung cancers and other diseases. In Britain, the University of Bristol has been working on a project dubbed “Odor Reader,” which analyzes vapor collected from patients' stool samples to diagnose causes of diarrhea.
But despite these advances, current technologies are still less capable than the human olfactory system, which contains some 100 million receptors that make use of 350 million different types of protein. Electronic noses, by comparison, typically use 32 or fewer chemical-based sensors.
But Covington said the technology was still mature enough to incorporate smell-based sensors into smartphones by the end of the decade. He noted the Qualcomm-sponsored Tricorder Xprize, which is already helping to spur development of the doctor-on-a-phone model.
"If you can breathe on the machine it will be able to tell you if you've got bad breath, but it might also help you monitor something like Crohn's disease," he said.
"One of the issues is that for certain applications, if you want to put the gas sensors on a phone, you would have to get approvals from government agencies.”
"But I've already seen plug-in prototypes for a number of applications."
CrazyLabo said it is currently developing a new robot whose nose grows longer when people aren’t telling the truth. The company says the android monitors brain waves to detect a lie.
- Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
People in a Texas neighborhood may be looking for massive mollusks after a recent sighting of a giant African land snail in one Houston-area garden sparked interest. However, researchers are warning people to stay away from the supersized slugs as they are dangerous to touch because they have been known to carry meningitis. Anyone coming into contact with the creatures should wash their hands immediately.
Autumn Smith-Herron, director of the Institute for the Study of Invasive Species at Sam Houston State University (SHSU), told NBC affiliate station KPRC that the slugs may also “carry a parasitic disease [called rat lungworm] that can cause a lot of harm to humans and sometimes even death.”
A Briar Forest neighborhood woman found the snail while gardening and, after taking a picture, notified workers at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center who deal with invasive plants. Staff there contacted SHSU researchers.
The sighting is the first confirmed report of the giant mollusk in Texas, and it is currently unclear how the snail got there. Experts, however, believe more could be in the area, due in part to the snail’s ability to lay 100 eggs per month.
One local resident, Jack Fendrick, said he would do his part to warn others of the potentially deadly creatures.
"I think most people, kids especially, will see a big snail and want to touch it. With meningitis as one of the side effects, that's scary," he told KRPC.
Jenny Bauer of KRPC reported that researchers in the Houston area plan to look for more. She noted that anyone who spots one, should not touch it, but rather report it to SHSU’s Invasive Species department at 936-294-3788.
The Institute is currently working to confirm whether the mollusk is in fact a species of giant African snail.
Shortly after the news first broke KRPC’s Facebook page lit up with people saying they were seeing the massive mollusks in their areas. One reported seeing a giant snail in a subdivision in Katy and another reported a sighting in Sugar Land last week.
However, the USDA said a common Texas snail can often be mistaken for the giant African snail. The department said it is sending a team to Houston to look for more.
Just last month redOrbit’s Brett Smith reported that officials in Florida were warning area residents there of a dangerous infestation of the giant African land snail.
Denise Feiber, the public information director of the Division of Plant Industry in Gainesville, said that over a thousand of the giant pests are being caught each week in the Miami-Dade area and as many as 117,000 have been captured since they were first reported in September 2011.
- Watch the video "A Dynamic Nectar Mop"
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
What do busy janitors and nectar feeding bats have in common? They both want to wipe up as much liquid as they can, as fast as they can. And it turns out, they both have specialized equipment for the job.
A new study, led by Brown University, describes the previously undiscovered mechanism used by the bat, Glossophaga soricina, to slurp up extra nectar from within a flower: a tongue tip that uses blood flow to erect scores of tiny hair-like structures at exactly the right time.
The findings were recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and demonstrate that the bat’s “hemodynamic nectar mop,” or tongue tip, features speed and reliability that would be the envy of industrial designers. As an example of the types of tools that nature can evolve, the tongue tip is surprising clever, according to Cally Harper a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University.
"Typically, hydraulic structures in nature tend to be slow like the tube-feet in starfish," Harper said. "But these bat tongues are extremely rapid because the vascular system that erects the hair-like papillae is embedded within a muscular hydrostat, which is a fancy term for muscular, constant-volume structures like tongues, elephant trunks and squid tentacles."
A mesh of muscle fibers contract the bat’s cylindrical tongue so that it becomes thinner and longer, allowing it to extend farther into the flower. The research team found that the same muscle contraction squeezes blood into the tiny hair-like papillae at the same time.
The papillae flare out perpendicular to the axis of the tongue as blood is displaced to the tip. The erect papillae add not only to the exposed surface area, but also add width. This allows the tongue to function as a highly effective nectar gathering tool.
The entire action – extension, nectar gathering and retraction – happens within an eighth of a second. Nectar feeding bats have to get a lot of calories very quickly to make the energy expenditure of hovering worthwhile.
Before this study, scientists were aware of the papillae, but regarded them as passive strings on a mop. Recent studies into the mechanics of hummingbird tongues inspired Harper to examine the shape of the bat’s tongue tip and how it is involved in nectar gathering.
Clear vascular connections between the main arteries and veins of the tongue and the papillae were observed in detailed anatomical studies. Harper was then able to recreate the erection of the papillae by pumping saline into the vascular system.
Harper said that while challenging to create, the color videos of bats feeding on nectar were especially convincing.
"That was one of my favorite parts of the study — the Aha moment," she said. "We shot color high-speed video of the bats gathering nectar, which is challenging to obtain because color cameras require a lot of light and the one thing that bats don't like is a lot of light."
Harper, with help from professors Beth Brainerd and Sharon Swartz, was able to focus a lot of light right where the tongue tip would be without shining any of the light into the bats’ eyes. This allowed the team to see that the papillae extend, they turn from a light pink to a bright red as they fill with blood.
"That was really the icing on the cake as far as nailing this vascular hypothesis," Harper said.
Harper is unsure if other nectar feeding bats have this same tongue mechanism, but the team speculates that the honey possum might also employ it. Other species, such as hummingbirds and bees, use different means of rapidly morphing their tongues for improved feeding. The researchers speculate that any or all of these highly evolved designs could provide technological inspiration.
"Together these three systems could serve as valuable models for the development of miniature surgical robots that are flexible, can change length and have dynamic surface configurations," Harper, Brainerd and Swartz wrote.
Or perhaps, we might just improve that janitor’s mop.
- Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The idea that the female of a species would, after completing coitus, approach, kill and eat her mate is a sentiment that instills, if not fear, unease in many the male reader. This scenario, in fact, is exactly how the Black Widow spider got its name. However, according to researchers out of Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, the popular knowledge behind this spider might not necessarily be so.
Study authors Lenka Sentenska and Stano Pekar found through the course of their research the male spiders of the Micaria sociabilis species are more likely to eat the females than be eaten.
The study, conducted over a two-year period, involved the collection of both male and female M. sociabilis spiders. The researchers noted the animals’ behaviors by mixing the males and females at different time points. This intermingling of the spiders allowed the observers to witness what happened when they paired young adult male spiders with single female spiders either from the same generation or from another generation. The researcher team wanted to learn, by pairing males with females of different size, age and mating status, if they were able to identify a form of reverse sexual cannibalism and whether or not it was an adaptive mechanism adopted for male mate choice.
The results show cannibalism took place early after the initial contact between the male and the female. Important to note, this cannibalism occurred before any mating took place. In addition to the females' age and size relative to the male, the team also learned reverse cannibalism differed significantly based on the month it was occurring. Males from the summer generation, it was noted, tended to be bigger than males born in the spring. They also exhibited more cannibalistic tendencies. The team inferred male aggression in M. sociabilis may be related to size.
The highest frequency of reverse cannibalism occurred when the larger, summer males would be paired with older females from the spring generation. It is then understood the age of the female may be the deciding factor on whether or not the male opts to cannibalize her. Also interesting to the research team was there was no difference in male cannibalization of females who had previously mated or were virgins. This, they say, demonstrates how, in some species and in some cases, the male makes a very clear choice about who they will mate with.
“Our study provides an insight into an unusual mating system which differs significantly from the general model,” the authors stated. “Even males may choose their potential partners and apparently, in some cases, they can present their choice as extremely as females do by cannibalizing unpreferred mates.”
Results of their research were recently published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
- redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
A team of scientists from Uruguay have genetically modified a flock of nine young sheep, causing the lambs to glow in the dark whenever they are exposed to ultraviolet light.
According to Slashgear’s Brian Sin, the scientists altered the creatures using the fluorescent protein from an Aequorea jellyfish. The sheep, which were born last October at the Animal Reproduction Institute of Uruguay, give off a glowing green color when exposed to some types of UV rays but are said to be developing normally.
“We did not use a protein of medical interest or to help with a particular medicine because we wanted to fine-tune the technique,” lead researcher Alejo Menchaca said, according to James A. Foley of Nature World News. “We used the green protein because the color is easily identifiable in the sheep's tissues.”
Menchaca added that the lambs have been spending as much time out in the field as their non-genetically modified counterparts, but in “better conditions, not the traditional breeding system.” He also was quoted by Foley as saying that the creatures were being “well looked after, well fed and very much loved.”
Menchaca, who worked on the project alongside Martina Crisp of the Pasteur Institute, told Merco Press, “The technique is complex and demands much work and is one of the limiting factors, so despite the global interest and demand it is still a slow process. Our focus is generating knowledge, make it public so the scientific community can be informed and help in the long run march to generate tools so humans can live better, but we’re not out in the market to sell technology.”
Menchaca explained that scientists can select a specific gene with biological or pharmaceutical value to humans, and then add it to the embryo of a cow, lamb, goat or similar creature so that the gene is incorporated into that animal’s DNA. Once it grows and matures, the creature can produce milk that contains that substance of interest. That milk then undergoes a complex procedure which makes it available for consumption so that people can benefit from it.
“While these sheep may be the first glow-in-the-dark sheep to exist, they’re not the first living creatures that scientists have genetically modified,” Sin said. “Scientists have also genetically modified zebrafish using the same green fluorescent protein from the Aequorea jelly fish to make them glow-in-the-dark. These zebrafish were them renamed ‘GloFish’ and have since been genetically modified using various other [fluorescent color] proteins.”
- [ Watch the Video: Guppy Jumping High Speed Video ]
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
As anyone who has ever owned a pet guppy knows, guppies will often jump out of their tanks. Parents have been stumped for answers when children ask why the fish would do such a thing. A new University of Maryland (UMD) study demonstrates how guppies are able to jump so high, and suggests an answer for why they do it.
Biologist Daphne De Freitas Soares is an expert in the brain circuitry that controls animal behavior. While she was researching unrelated evolutionary changes in the brainstems of Poecilia reticulata – a wild guppy species from Trinidad – Soares decided to study jumping guppies after one jumped out of the laboratory tank and into her cup of chai.
“Fortunately it was iced chai and it had a lid on, so he stayed alive,” Soares said. “That was enough for me. I had to use a high speed camera to film what was going on.”
Soares and UMD biology lecturer Hilary S. Bierman analyzed the jumping behavior of nine wild Trinidadian guppies using high-speed videography and digital imaging. The findings of their study were published in a recent online issue of PLOS ONE.
According to the researchers, "the guppies started from a still position, swam backwards slowly, then changed direction and hurtled into the air." Preparing for the jump allowed the guppies to jump up to eight times their body length, and at speeds of more than four feet per second. This behavior has never before been reported.
The team concluded guppies jump on purpose. They don't believe however the guppies do not jump for the same reasons other fish do, such as to escape from predators, to catch prey, or to get past obstacles on seasonal migrations.
According to the team, jumping can serve an important evolutionary purpose in allowing guppies to reach all the available habitat in Trinidad's mountain streams. In dispersing this way, the fish move away from areas of heavy predation, minimize competition with one another, and keep the species’ genetic variability high, according to the study.
“Evolution is truly amazing,” added Soares, who conducted the study at no cost.