Breakthrough in creating invisibility cloaks, stealth technology

Controlling and bending light around an object so it appears invisible to the naked eye is the theory behind fictional invisibility cloaks.It may seem easy in Hollywood movies, but is hard to create in real life because no material in nature has the properties necessary to bend light in such a way. Scientists have managed to create artificial nanostructures that can do the job, called metamaterials. But the challenge has been making enough of the material to turn science fiction into a practical reality.The work of Debashis Chanda at the University of Central Florida, however, may have just cracked that barrier. The cover story in the March edition of the journal Advanced Optical Materials, explains how Chanda and fellow optical and nanotech experts were able to develop a larger swath of multilayer 3-D metamaterial operating in the visible spectral range. They accomplished this feat by using nanotransfer printing, which can potentially be engineered to modify surrounding refractive index needed for controlling propagation of light.”Such large-area fabrication of metamaterials following a simple printing technique will enable realization of novel devices based on engineered optical responses at the nanoscale,” said Chanda, an assistant professor at UCF.The nanotransfer printing technique creates metal/dielectric composite films, which are stacked together in a 3-D architecture with nanoscale patterns for operation in the visible spectral range. Control of electromagnetic resonances over the 3-D space by structural manipulation allows precise control over propagation of light. Following this technique, larger pieces of this special material can be created, which were previously limited to micron-scale size.By improving the technique, the team hopes to be able to create larger pieces of the material with engineered optical properties, which would make it practical to produce for real-life device applications. For example, the team could develop large-area metamaterial absorbers, which would enable fighter jets to remain invisible from detection systems.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Central Florida. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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The rise of spring allergies: Fact or fiction?

The spring 2014 allergy season could be the worst yet, or at least that is what you might hear. Every year is coined as being the worst for allergy sufferers, but are spring allergies really on the rise?”A number of factors, such as weather patterns, predict how intense the spring allergy season will be,” said allergist Michael Foggs, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). “While allergies are on the rise, affecting more and more Americans every year, each spring isn’t necessarily worse than the last.”According to ACAAI, 23.6 million Americans were diagnosed with hay fever in the last year. The prevalence of allergies is surging upward, with as many as 30 percent of adults and up to 40 percent of children having at least one allergy.”With more people being affected by seasonal allergies, it may seem like every year is the worst yet for sufferers,” said Dr. Foggs. “But in reality, there might just be more people complaining about symptoms.”Following are factors that influence the severity of allergy season, along with some explanations about why more Americans are being diagnosed with allergies.• Climate Change – Recent studies have shown pollen levels gradually increase every year. Part of the reason for this is due to the changing climate. The warmer temperatures and mild winters cause plants to begin producing and releasing pollen earlier, making the spring allergy season longer. Rain can promote plant and pollen growth, while wind accompanying rainfall can stir pollen and mold into the air, heightening symptoms. The climate is not only responsible for making the allergy season longer and symptoms more bothersome, but may also be partially to blame for the rise in allergy sufferers.• Priming Effect – A mild winter can trigger an early release of pollen from trees. …

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After the saffron spice DNA

Researchers at the UPM and the University of Tor Vegata of Roma have proposed a new technique that allows the detection of adulterated saffron spice.A collaborative research between Universidad Politcnica de Madrid (UPM) and the University of de Tor Vegata has studied the DNA of the saffron spice through the analysis of its genetic code. The use of this technique has clarified aspects of the genetic variability of this species, which has allowed the design of a system that can discriminate and certify the authenticity of saffron spice to avoid cases of adulteration.Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is sterile plant species of bulbous herb with purple colored flowers whose origin is still unknown. The dry stigmas of the Crocus sativus L. are commonly known as saffron, which is a cultivated plant with a gastronomical reputation that dates back from ancient times. In fact, it is only vegetatively propagated by bulbs due to its incapacity of producing fertile pollen and for this reason, seeds.The plant blooms just once a year and the harvest of stigmas are made by manual selection in a very short amount of time. For this reason, saffron spice is the most expensive spice in the world.This research has used a DNA barcode technique to define different species and saffron spice crop fields. For this reason, researchers have analyzed samples of various species of Crocus, both Italians and Spanish ones, including species from different origins of cultivated saffron spice. As a result of this study, researchers found some aspects of the phylogeny of this gender, particularly the genetic drift of Crocus sativus.Numerous morphological studies support the theory that saffron spice was originated from evolution or hybridization of other saffron species, especially C. thomasii, C. hadriaticus and C. …

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Autistic brains create more information at rest, study show

New research from Case Western Reserve University and University of Toronto neuroscientists finds that the brains of autistic children generate more information at rest — a 42% increase on average. The study offers a scientific explanation for the most typical characteristic of autism — withdrawal into one’s own inner world. The excess production of information may explain a child’s detachment from their environment.Published at the end of December in Frontiers in Neuroinformatics, this study is a follow-up to the authors’ prior finding that brain connections are different in autistic children. This paper determined that the differences account for the increased complexity within their brains.”Our results suggest that autistic children are not interested in social interactions because their brains generate more information at rest, which we interpret as more introspection in line with early descriptions of the disorder,” said Roberto Fernndez Galn, PhD, senior author and associate professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.The authors quantified information as engineers normally do but instead of applying it to signals in electronic devices, they applied it to brain activity recorded with magnetoencephalography (MEG). They showed that autistic children’s brains at rest generate more information than non-autistic children. This may explain their lack of interest in external stimuli, including interactions with other people.The researchers also quantified interactions between brain regions, i.e., the brain’s functional connectivity, and determined the inputs to the brain in the resting state allowing them to interpret the children’s introspection level.”This is a novel interpretation because it is a different attempt to understand the children’s cognition by analyzing their brain activity,” said Jos L. Prez Velzquez, PhD, first author and professor of neuroscience at University of Toronto Institute of Medical Science and Department of Pediatrics, Brain and Behavior Center. “Measuring cognitive processes is not trivial; yet, our findings indicate that this can be done to some extent with well-established mathematical tools from physics and engineering.”This study provides quantitative support for the relatively new “Intense World Theory” of autism proposed by neuroscientists Henry and Kamila Markram of the Brain Mind Institute in Switzerland, which describes the disorder as the result of hyper-functioning neural circuitry, leading to a state of over-arousal. More generally, the work of Galn and Prez Velzquez is an initial step in the investigation of how information generation in the brain relates to cognitive/psychological traits and will begin to frame neurophysiological data into psychological aspects. The team now aims to apply a similar approach to patients with schizophrenia.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Case Western Reserve University. …

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Fat black holes grown up in ‘cities’: Observational result using virtual observatory

Oct. 17, 2013 — Massive black holes of more than one million solar masses exist at the center of most galaxies. Some of the massive black holes are observed as active galactic nuclei (AGN) which attract surrounding gas and release huge amounts of energy.How does a massive black hole get “fat”? One possibility is that mutual interaction between galaxies leads to the growth of a black hole. If this theory is correct, there must be some relationship between properties of an supermassive black hole and environment of its host galaxy. Previous studies revealed that radio-loud AGNs are in the overcrowded region. However, it is still not clear that relation between the mass of an central black hole and the environment around an active galaxy (galaxies hosting AGNs). This is why the research team explored the distribution of galaxies surrounding active galaxies.The research team utilized the “Virtual Observatory” to examine many massive black holes and the environment of active galaxies.The Virtual Observatory is a system to make integrated use of various astronomical databases around the world via sharing over the Internet. The Astronomy Data Center of NAOJ has been developing an original portal site for the virtual observatory. To begin with this research, the team collected the data on more than 10,000 AGN whose black hole mass had been already measured by spectroscopic observation with SDSS (Note 1). …

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Language and tool-making skills evolved at the same time

Sep. 3, 2013 — Research by the University of Liverpool has found that the same brain activity is used for language production and making complex tools, supporting the theory that they evolved at the same time.Researchers from the University tested the brain activity of 10 expert stone tool makers (flint knappers) as they undertook a stone tool-making task and a standard language test.Brain blood flow activity measuredThey measured the brain blood flow activity of the participants as they performed both tasks using functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD), commonly used in clinical settings to test patients’ language functions after brain damage or before surgery.The researchers found that brain patterns for both tasks correlated, suggesting that they both use the same area of the brain. Language and stone tool-making are considered to be unique features of humankind that evolved over millions of years.Darwin was the first to suggest that tool-use and language may have co-evolved, because they both depend on complex planning and the coordination of actions but until now there has been little evidence to support this.Dr Georg Meyer, from the University Department of Experimental Psychology, said: “This is the first study of the brain to compare complex stone tool-making directly with language.Tool use and language co-evolved”Our study found correlated blood-flow patterns in the first 10 seconds of undertaking both tasks. This suggests that both tasks depend on common brain areas and is consistent with theories that tool-use and language co-evolved and share common processing networks in the brain.”Dr Natalie Uomini from the University’s Department of Archaeology, Classics & Egyptology, said: “Nobody has been able to measure brain activity in real time while making a stone tool. This is a first for both archaeology and psychology.”The research was supported by the Leverhulme Trust, the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Academy. It is published in PLOS ONE.

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Well-being not a priority for workaholics

Aug. 22, 2013 — Working overtime may cost you your health, according to a Kansas State University doctoral researcher.Sarah Asebedo, doctoral student in personal financial planning and conflict resolution, Edina, Minn., conducted a study using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979. She and her colleagues — Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services and director of the university’s personal financial planning program, and Jamie Blue, doctoral student in personal financial planning, Tallahassee, Fla. — found a preliminary link between workaholics and reduced physical and mental well-being. The study, “Workaholism and Well-Being,” will appear in Financial Services Review, a journal of individual financial management.”We looked at the association between workaholism and physical and mental well-being,” Asebedo said. “We found workaholics — defined by those working more than 50 hours per week — were more likely to have reduced physical well-being, measured by skipped meals. Also, we found that workaholism was associated with reduced mental well-being as measured by a self-reported depression score.”The link between workaholism and well-being has been assumed for years; however, there was a lack of research supporting the link until this study, Asebedo said. To understand why people work overtime even when they know it is not good for their well-being, the researchers used Gary S. Becker’s Theory of the Allocation of Time, a mathematical analysis for choice measuring the cost of time.”It looks at the cost of time as if it were a market good,” Asebedo said. “This theory suggests that the more money you make, the more likely you are to work more. …

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Quantum teleportation: Transfer of flying quantum bits at the touch of a button

Aug. 15, 2013 — By means of the quantum-mechanical entanglement of spatially separated light fields, researchers in Tokyo and Mainz have managed to teleport photonic qubits with extreme reliability. This means that a decisive breakthrough has been achieved some 15 years after the first experiments in the field of optical teleportation. The success of the experiment conducted in Tokyo is attributable to the use of a hybrid technique in which two conceptually different and previously incompatible approaches were combined.”Discrete digital optical quantum information can now be transmitted continuously — at the touch of a button, if you will,” explained Professor Peter van Loock of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). As a theoretical physicist, van Loock advised the experimental physicists in the research team headed by Professor Akira Furusawa of the University of Tokyo on how they could most efficiently perform the teleportation experiment to ultimately verify the success of quantum teleportation. Their findings have now been published in the journal Nature.Quantum teleportation involves the transfer of arbitrary quantum states from a sender, dubbed Alice, to a spatially distant receiver, named Bob. This requires that Alice and Bob initially share an entangled quantum state across the space in question, e.g., in the form of entangled photons. Quantum teleportation is of fundamental importance to the processing of quantum information (quantum computing) and quantum communication. Photons are especially valued as ideal information carriers for quantum communication since they can be used to transmit signals at the speed of light. A photon can represent a quantum bit or qubit analogous to a binary digit (bit) in standard classical information processing. …

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Psychotherapy via internet as good as if not better than face-to-face consultations

July 30, 2013 — Does psychotherapy via the Internet work? For the first time, clinical researchers from the University of Zurich have studied whether online psychotherapy and conventional face-to-face therapy are equally effective in experiments. Based on earlier studies, the Zurich team assumed that the two forms of therapy were on a par. Not only was their theory confirmed, the results for online therapy even exceeded their expectations.Share This:Six therapists treated 62 patients, the majority of whom were suffering from moderate depression. The patients were divided into two equal groups at random and assigned to one of the therapeutic forms. The treatment consisted of eight sessions with different established techniques that stem from cognitive behavior therapy and could be carried out both orally and in writing. Patients treated online had to perform one predetermined written task per therapy unit — such as querying their own negative self-image. They were known to the therapist by name.Online therapy even more effective in the medium term”In both groups, the depression values fell significantly,” says Professor Andreas Maercker, summing up the results of the study. At the end of the treatment, no more depression could be diagnosed in 53 percent of the patients who underwent online therapy — compared to 50 percent for face-to-face therapy. Three months after completing the treatment, the depression in patients treated online even decreased whereas those treated conventionally only displayed a minimal decline: no more depression could be detected in 57 percent of patients from online therapy compared to 42 percent with conventional therapy.For both patient groups, the degree of satisfaction with the treatment and therapists was more or less equally high. …

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Behavior of turbulent flow of superfluids is opposite that of ordinary fluids

July 25, 2013 — A superfluid moves like a completely frictionless liquid, seemingly able to propel itself without any hindrance from gravity or surface tension. The physics underlying these materials — which appear to defy the conventional laws of physics — has fascinated scientists for decades.Think of the assassin T-1000 in the movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” — a robotic shape-shifter made of liquid metal. Or better yet, consider a real-world example: liquid helium. When cooled to extremely low temperatures, helium exhibits behavior that is otherwise impossible in ordinary fluids. For instance, the superfluid can squeeze through pores as small as a molecule, and climb up and over the walls of a glass. It can even remain in motion years after a centrifuge containing it has stopped spinning.Now physicists at MIT have come up with a method to mathematically describe the behavior of superfluids — in particular, the turbulent flows within superfluids. They publish their results this week in the journal Science.”Turbulence provides a fascinating window into the dynamics of a superfluid,” says Allan Adams, an associate professor of physics at MIT. “Imagine pouring milk into a cup of tea. As soon as the milk hits the tea, it flares out into whirls and eddies, which stretch and split into filigree. Understanding this complicated, roiling turbulent state is one of the great challenges of fluid dynamics. …

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Astronomers witness birth of Milky Way’s most massive star

July 10, 2013 — Scientists have observed in unprecedented detail the birth of a massive star within a dark cloud core about 10,000 light years from Earth.The team used the new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) telescope in Chile — the most powerful radio telescope in the world — to view the stellar womb which, at 500 times the mass of the Sun and many times more luminous, is the largest ever seen in our galaxy.The researchers say their observations — to be published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics — reveal how matter is being dragged into the centre of the huge gaseous cloud by the gravitational pull of the forming star — or stars — along a number of dense threads or filaments.”The remarkable observations from ALMA allowed us to get the first really in-depth look at what was going on within this cloud,” said lead author Dr Nicolas Peretto, from Cardiff University. “We wanted to see how monster stars form and grow, and we certainly achieved our aim. One of the sources we have found is an absolute giant — the largest protostellar core ever spotted in the Milky Way!”Even though we already believed that the region was a good candidate for being a massive star-forming cloud, we were not expecting to find such a massive embryonic star at its centre. This cloud is expected to form at least one star 100 times more massive than the Sun and up to a million times brighter. Only about one in 10,000 of all the stars in the Milky Way reach that kind of mass.”Different theories exist as to how these massive stars form but the team’s findings lend weight to the idea that the entire cloud core begins to collapse inwards, with material raining in towards the centre to form one or more massive stars.Co-author Professor Gary Fuller, from The University of Manchester, said: “Not only are these stars rare, but their births are extremely rapid and childhood short, so finding such a massive object so early in its evolution in our Galaxy is a spectacular result.”Our observations reveal in superb detail the filamentary network of dust and gas flowing into the central compact region of the cloud and strongly support the theory of global collapse for the formation of massive stars.”The University of Manchester hosts the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)-funded support centre for UK astronomers using ALMA, where the observations were processed.Team member Dr Ana Duarte-Cabral, from the Université de Bordeaux, said: “Matter is drawn into the centre of the cloud from all directions but the filaments are the regions around the star that contain the densest gas and dust and so these distinct patterns are generated.”Dr Peretto added: “We managed to get these very detailed observations using only a fraction of ALMA’s ultimate potential. ALMA will definitely revolutionise our knowledge of star formation, solving some current problems, and certainly raising new ones.”

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People show more humorous creativity when primed with thoughts of death

July 2, 2013 — Humor is an intrinsic part of human experience. It plays a role in every aspect of human existence, from day-to-day conversation to television shows. Yet little research has been conducted to date on the psychological function of humor. In human psychology, awareness of the impermanence of life is just as prevalent as humor. According to the Terror Management Theory, knowledge of one’s own impermanence creates potentially disruptive existential anxiety, which the individual brings under control with two coping mechanisms, or anxiety buffers: rigid adherence to dominant cultural values, and self-esteem bolstering.Share This:A new article by Christopher R. Long of Ouachita Baptist University and Dara Greenwood of Vassar College is titled Joking in the Face of Death: A Terror Management Approach to Humor Production. Appearing in the journal HUMOR, it documents research on whether the activation of thoughts concerning death influences one’s ability to creatively generate humor. As humor is useful on a fundamental level for a variety of purposes, including psychological defense against anxiety, the authors hypothesized that the activation of thoughts concerning death could facilitate the production of humor.For their study, Long and Greenwood subdivided 117 students into four experimental groups. These groups were confronted with the topics of pain and death while completing various tasks. Two of the test groups were exposed unconsciously to words flashed for 33 milliseconds on a computer while they completed tasks — the first to the word “pain,” the second to the word “death.” The remaining two groups were prompted in a writing task to express emotions concerning either their own death or a painful visit to the dentist. …

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When it comes to mammals, how big is too big?

June 16, 2013 — Mammals vary enormously in size, from weighing less than a penny to measuring more than three school buses in length. Some groups of mammals have become very large, such as elephants and whales, while others have always been small, like primates. A new theory developed by an interdisciplinary team, led by Jordan Okie of Arizona State University, provides an explanation for why and how certain groups of organisms are able to evolve gigantic sizes, whereas others are not.The international research team composed of palaeontologists, evolutionary biologists and ecologists examined information on how quickly an individual animal grows and used it to predict how large it may get over evolutionary time. Their research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.The new theory developed from the observation that some animals live fast and die young, while others take their time and mature much later. This is called the slow-fast life-history continuum, where “fast” animals — such as mice — breed very quickly, while humans mature slowly and are relatively older when they first have children. The theory proposes that those species that are relatively faster are more likely to evolve a large size quicker than slow species, and that their maximum size will be greater.The research team tested their theory using the fossil records of mammals over the last 70 million years, examining the maximum size of each mammal group throughout that time, including whales, elephants, rodents, seals and primates. They found that their theory was very well supported.”Primates have evolved very slowly, and never got bigger than 1,000 pounds,” said Okie, an exploration postdoctoral fellow in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU. “The opposite was true of whales, which evolved their large size at the fastest rates recorded.”The theory also makes predictions about the relative risks of extinction for large animals compared to small. The maximum size of an animal is limited by the rate of mortality in the population. Because larger animals tend to breed less frequently than smaller animals, if the mortality rate doubles, the maximum size is predicted to be 16 times smaller.”This is a really surprising finding,” said co-author Alistair Evans of Monash University (Melbourne, Australia). …

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Cocoa may help fight obesity-related inflammation

June 12, 2013 — A few cups of hot cocoa may not only fight off the chill of a winter’s day, but they could also help obese people better control inflammation-related diseases, such as diabetes, according to Penn State researchers.Mice that were fed cocoa with a high-fat diet experienced less obesity-related inflammation than mice fed the same high-fat diet without the supplement, said Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science. The mice ate the human equivalent of 10 tablespoons of cocoa powder — about four or five cups of hot cocoa — during a 10-week period.”What surprised me was the magnitude of the effect,” Lambert said. “There wasn’t as big of an effect on the body weight as we expected, but I was surprised at the dramatic reduction of inflammation and fatty liver disease.”The researchers reported that several indicators of inflammation and diabetes in the mice that were fed the cocoa supplement were much lower than the mice that were fed the high-fat diet without the cocoa powder and almost identical to the ones found that were fed a low-fat diet in the control group. For example, they had about 27 percent lower plasma insulin levels than the mice that were not fed cocoa. High levels of insulin can signal that a patient has diabetes.The cocoa powder supplement also reduced the levels of liver triglycerides in mice by a little more than 32 percent, according to Lambert, who worked with Yeyi Gu, graduate student in food science, and Shan Yu, a graduate student in physiology. Elevated triglyceride levels are a sign of fatty liver disease and are related to inflammation and diabetes.The mice also saw a slight but significant drop in the rate of body weight gain, according to the researchers, who reported their findings in the online version of the European Journal of Nutrition.While researchers have linked obesity-related chronic inflammation to several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, the reason for the inflammation response is not completely known. Lambert said two theories on inflammation and obesity that have emerged may help explain cocoa’s role in mitigating inflammation. In one theory, Lambert said excess fat may activate a distress signal that causes immune cells to become activated and cause inflammation. The cocoa may reduce the precursors that act as a distress signal to initiate this inflammatory response.Lambert said that another theory is that excess fat in the diet interferes with the body’s ability to keep a bacterial component called endotoxin from entering the bloodstream through gaps between cells in the digestive system — gut barrier function — and alerting an immune response. The cocoa in this case may help improve gut barrier function.Cocoa, although commonly consumed in chocolate, actually has low-calorie content, low-fat content and high-fiber content.”Most obesity researchers tend to steer clear of chocolate because it is high in fat, high in sugar and is usually considered an indulgence,” Lambert said. …

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Rewinding development: A step forward for stem cell research

June 6, 2013 — Scientists at the Danish Stem Cell Center, DanStem, at the University of Copenhagen have discovered that they can make embryonic stem cells regress to a stage of development where they are able to make placenta cells as well as the other fetal cells. This significant discovery, published in the journal Cell Reports today, has the potential to shed new light on placenta related disorders that can lead to problematic pregnancies and miscarriages.Embryonic stem cells can make all kinds of adult cells in the human body such as muscle, blood or brain cells. However, these embryonic stem cells are created at a point when the embryo has already lost the ability to make extra-embryonic tissue such as placenta and yolk sac. Extra-embryonic tissues are formed at the very earliest stage of development right after fertilization and are essential for the growth of the embryo and its implantation in the womb.A team of scientists at the Danish Stem Cell Center, DanStem, at the University of Copenhagen have shown that it is possible to rewind the developmental state of embryonic stem cells. By maintaining mouse embryonic stem cells under certain conditions, they found that cells appear to regress and resemble extremely early embryo cells that can form any kind of cell including placenta and yolk sac cells.”It was a very exciting moment when we tested the theory,” says Professor Josh Brickman from DanStem. “We found that not only can we make adult cells but also placenta, in fact we got precursors of placenta, yolk sac as well as embryo from just one cell.”Sophie Morgani, PhD student at DanStem and first author of the paper, which was published in the scientific journal Cell Reports todayadds: “This new discovery is crucial for the basic understanding of the nature of embryonic stem cells and could provide a way to model the development of the organism as a whole, rather than just the embryonic portion. In this way we may gain greater insight into conditions where extra-embryonic development is impaired, as in the case of miscarriages.”LIF protein plays a crucial roleBrickman and colleagues grew their embryonic stem cells in a solution containing LIF, which is a protein known to somehow support embryonic stem cells but also for its role in implantation of the embryo into the uterus. As implantation is stimulated by the cells that will become the placenta, not the embryo, these roles appeared to be contradictory. The DanStem study resolved this contradiction by revealing that LIF helps maintain the cells in their regressed, early stage of development.”In our study we have been able to see the full picture unifying LIF’s functions: What LIF really does, is to support the very early embryo state, where the cells can make both embryonic cells and placenta. This fits with LIFs’ role in supporting implantation,” Josh Brickman says.

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