13 March 2008

Nano, Micro, Merely Small, etc.

The curious shapes you see pictured above are DNA building blocks, examples of what a DNA architecture might achieve.
A team of scientists has created a versatile strategy for building three dimensional structures on the nanometre (billionth of a metre) scale by coaxing strands of DNA to from a basic building block that can then assemble spontaneously into complex three dimensional shapes over distances of around ten to twenty billionths of a metre.___Telegraph
Meanwhile, inside living organisms, modifications to DNA seem to determine whether an individual will be schizophrenic, bi-polar, or normal.
Arturas Petronis, senior scientist at the Krembil Family Epigenetic Laboratory at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, has found there is a distinctive pattern in the on-off switches controlling roughly 40 different genes in the brains of psychiatric patients suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder....They looked at 12,000 genes and found significant differences in the brains of the patients who suffered from serious mental illnesses. There were distinct differences in the methylation of 40 genes. Some of the differences were shared between the schizophrenia and bipolar patients, and some were unique to each disease.___GlobeandMail
This "epigenetic" control of gene expression can lead to different experiences of health and disease in two individuals whose genomic DNA sequences are identical. Clearly, epigenetics is a huge repository of "environmental" effect.

Meanwhile, in worm and yeast DNA, scientists are zeroing in on genes that may account for differences in lifespan between individuals.
The researchers began by scouring the scientific literature for genes that have an influence on the life span of nematode worms. The worms are often used in ageing research because they have a short natural life span and are easy to genetically modify. The scientists found that of the 276 genes known to affect ageing in nematode worms, only 25 were also present in yeast. At least 15 of these have similar versions in humans.___Guardian
Learning how to trigger or block certain of these genes (or gene products) may provide the first effective treatments for "aging".

Japanese researchers are developing nano-sized mechanical computers capable of performing massively parallel simultaneous computations.
The team plans to turn the 2D wheel of 16 molecules into a 3D sphere - a structure that would consist of 1,024 molecules. This spherical device could perform 1,024 instructions at once, theoretically making it capable of 4^1024 different states. ___Source
On a larger scale, "sugar cube-sized" robots that are capable of linking up and forming larger robots for various purposes, announce the application of the "swarm concept" to robotics.
If a machine has to travel a long distance, it could assemble into a rolling ball, before changing shape into a four-legged machine to clamber over rubble, said Winfield. By mimicking evolution, the robot will test different strategies and settle on whichever seems to work best.

The principle is similar to an ant or termite colony, where individuals cooperate to such a degree they behave like one large organism, even though there is no central "brain" instructing it what to do.

"A Symbrion swarm could be released into a collapsed building following an earthquake ... they could form themselves into teams searching for survivors or to lift rubble off stranded people. Some might form a chain allowing rescue workers to communicate with survivors while others assemble themselves into a 'medicine-bot' to give first aid," Winfield added.___Source
While human disciplines are organised by "field of study", in real life there are no "fields of study." In real life, everything is interdisciplinary. More intelligent humans will adapt their educational practises to reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the real universe. Hyper-specialisation is a fact of life at universities, but in nature it is a certain recipe for extinction.

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