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Epigenomics of Alzheimer’s disease progression

February 18, 2015 9:50 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Our susceptibility to disease depends both on the genes that we inherit from our parents and on our lifetime experiences. These two components—nature and nurture—seem to affect very different processes in the context of Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study published in Nature.

Smarter multicore chips

February 18, 2015 7:33 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Computer chips’ clocks have stopped getting faster. To keep delivering performance improvements, chipmakers are instead giving chips more processing units, or cores, which can execute computations in parallel. But the ways in which a chip carves up computations can make a big difference to performance.

Engineered insulin could offer better diabetes control

February 10, 2015 8:41 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

For patients with diabetes, insulin is critical to maintaining good health and normal blood-sugar levels. However, it’s not an ideal solution because it can be difficult for patients to determine exactly how much insulin they need to prevent their blood sugar from swinging too high or too low. Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers hope to improve treatment for diabetes patients with a new type of engineered insulin.

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Evaluating strategies for HIV vaccination

February 6, 2015 11:21 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Through an investigation of a fundamental process that guides the maturation of immune cells, researchers have revealed new insights into possible ways to vaccinate people to generate potent antibodies of the type that are predicted to offer protection against diverse strains of the highly mutable HIV. 

New source of cells for modeling malaria

February 6, 2015 9:40 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

In 2008, the World Health Organization announced a global effort to eradicate malaria, which kills about 800,000 people every year. As part of that goal, scientists are trying to develop new drugs that target the malaria parasite during the stage when it infects the human liver, which is crucial because some strains of malaria can lie dormant in the liver for several years before flaring up.

Diamonds could help bring proteins into focus

February 6, 2015 7:40 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Proteins are the building blocks of all living things, and they exist in virtually unlimited varieties, most of whose highly complex structures have not yet been determined. Those structures could be key to developing new drugs or to understanding basic biological processes. But figuring out the arrangement of atoms in these complicated, folded molecules usually requires getting them to form crystals large enough to be observed in detail.

How to prevent metal embrittlement

February 5, 2015 8:00 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

When a metal tube lines an oil well thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean, that metal had better be solid and reliable. Unfortunately, the environment in such deep wells is often rich in hydrogen, a gas that can penetrate high-tech alloys and make them brittle, making fractures and leaks more likely. Now researchers have figured which characteristics of a metal structure foster this embrittlement in the presence of hydrogen.

Splash down

February 4, 2015 8:40 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Farmers have long noted a correlation between rainstorms and disease outbreaks among plants. Fungal parasites known as “rust” can grow particularly rampant following rain events, eating away at the leaves of wheat and potentially depleting crop harvests. While historical weather records suggest rainfall may scatter rust and other pathogens throughout a plant population, the mechanism by which this occurs has not been explored, until now.

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Waves in the deep

February 3, 2015 9:03 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Acoustic-gravity waves can be generated by underwater earthquakes, explosions and landslides, as well as by surface waves and meteorites. A single one of these waves can stretch tens or hundreds of kilometers, and travel at depths of hundreds or thousands of meters below the ocean surface, transferring energy from the upper surface to the seafloor, and across the oceans. Acoustic-gravity waves often precede a tsunami or rogue wave.

Wrinkle predictions

February 3, 2015 8:20 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

As a grape slowly dries and shrivels, its surface creases, ultimately taking on the wrinkled form of a raisin. Similar patterns can be found on the surfaces of other dried materials, as well as in human fingerprints. While these patterns have long been observed in nature, and more recently in experiments, scientists have not been able to come up with a way to predict how such patterns arise in curved systems, such as microlenses.

Tasting light

January 30, 2015 4:21 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Human taste receptors are specialized to distinguish several distinct compounds: sugars taste sweet, salts taste salty, and acidic compounds taste sour. Now a new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds that the worm Caenorhabditis elegans has taken its powers of detection a step further: The worm can taste hydrogen peroxide, triggering it to stop eating the potentially dangerous substance.

Parallelizing common algorithms

January 30, 2015 8:28 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Every undergraduate computer science major takes a course on data structures, which describes different ways of organizing data in a computer’s memory. Every data structure has its own advantages: Some are good for fast retrieval, some for efficient search, some for quick insertions and deletions and so on. Today, hardware manufacturers are making computer chips faster by giving them more cores, or processing units.

Qubits with staying power

January 29, 2015 3:41 pm | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Quantum computers are experimental devices that promise exponential speedups on some computational problems. Where a bit in a classical computer can represent either a 0 or a 1, a quantum bit, or qubit, can represent 0 and 1 simultaneously, letting quantum computers explore multiple problem solutions in parallel. But such “superpositions” of quantum states are, in practice, difficult to maintain.

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Researchers design tailored tissue adhesives

January 29, 2015 8:17 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

After undergoing surgery to remove diseased sections of the colon, up to 30% of patients experience leakage from their sutures, which can cause life-threatening complications. Many efforts are under way to create new tissue glues that can help seal surgical incisions and prevent such complications; now, a new study reveals that the effectiveness of such glues hinges on the state of the tissue in which they are being used.

New analysis explains collagen’s force

January 22, 2015 7:48 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Research combining experimental work and detailed molecular simulations has revealed, for the first time, the complex role that water plays in collagen. The new analysis reveals an important mechanism that had never been observed before: Adding even small amounts of water to, or removing water from, collagen in tendons can generate surprisingly strong forces, as much as 300 times stronger than the forces generated by muscles.

Optimizing optimization algorithms

January 21, 2015 9:36 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Optimization algorithms are everywhere in engineering. Among other things, they’re used to evaluate design tradeoffs, to assess control systems and to find patterns in data. One way to solve a difficult optimization problem is to first reduce it to a related but much simpler problem, then gradually add complexity back in, solving each new problem in turn and using its solution as a guide to solving the next one.

Sequestration on shaky ground

January 21, 2015 7:46 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Carbon sequestration promises to address greenhouse gas emissions by capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and injecting it deep below the Earth’s surface, where it would permanently solidify into rock. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that current carbon sequestration technologies may eliminate up to 90% of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

New way to model sickle cell behavior

January 20, 2015 10:49 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Patients with sickle cell disease often suffer from painful attacks known as vaso-occlusive crises, during which their sickle-shaped blood cells get stuck in tiny capillaries, depriving tissues of needed oxygen. Blood transfusions can sometimes prevent such attacks, but there are currently no good ways to predict when a vaso-occlusive crisis, which can last for several days, is imminent.

New fibers can deliver many simultaneous stimuli

January 20, 2015 7:33 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

The human brain’s complexity makes it extremely challenging to study; not only because of its sheer size, but also because of the variety of signaling methods it uses simultaneously. Conventional neural probes are designed to record a single type of signaling, limiting the information that can be derived from the brain at any point in time. Now researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have found a way to change that.

Study details link between inflammation and cancer

January 16, 2015 9:28 am | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology reveals one reason why people who suffer from chronic inflammatory diseases such as colitis have a higher risk of mutations that cause cancer. The researchers also found that exposure to DNA-damaging chemicals after a bout of inflammation boosts these mutations even more, further increasing cancer risk.

Software that knows the risks

January 16, 2015 8:37 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Imagine that you could tell your phone that you want to drive from your house in Boston to a hotel in upstate New York, that you want to stop for lunch at an Applebee’s at about 12:30, and that you don’t want the trip to take more than four hours. Then imagine that your phone tells you that you have only a 66% chance of meeting those criteria.

Team enlarges brain samples, making them easier to image

January 15, 2015 2:29 pm | by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Beginning with the invention of the first microscope in the late 1500s, scientists have been trying to peer into preserved cells and tissues with ever-greater magnification. The latest generation of so-called “super-resolution” microscopes can see inside cells with resolution better than 250 nm.

A twist on planetary origins

January 14, 2015 4:34 pm | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Meteors that have crashed to Earth have long been regarded as relics of the early solar system. These craggy chunks of metal and rock are studded with chondrules, tiny, glassy, spherical grains that were once molten droplets. Scientists have thought that chondrules represent early kernels of terrestrial planets.

How to predict responses to disease

January 14, 2015 10:18 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Sometimes the response to the outbreak of a disease can make things worse. The ability to anticipate when such overreactions might occur could help public health officials take steps to limit the dangers. Now a new computer model could provide a way of making such forecasts, based on a combination of data collected from hospitals, social media and other sources.

Rainfall can release aerosols

January 14, 2015 7:38 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Ever notice an earthy smell in the air after a light rain? Now scientists believe they may have identified the mechanism that releases this aroma, as well as other aerosols, into the environment. Using high-speed cameras, the researchers observed that when a raindrop hits a porous surface, it traps tiny air bubbles at the point of contact.

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