what's the buzz

what's the buzz

New method to save eyesight loss

A scientist duo has found a way to boost the nutritional value of corn — a feat that could reduce the number of children in developing countries who lose their eyesight, become ill or die each year because of vitamin A deficiencies.

Corn contains carotenoids, some of which the body can convert to vitamin A. Beta-carotene is the best vitamin A precursor, but only a very small percentage of corn varieties have naturally high beta-carotene levels.

In Africa and other developing regions, corn is a major staple and hundreds of thousands of children become blind, develop weakened immune systems and die because of diets based largely on corn that lacks sufficient beta-carotene.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists Marilyn Warburton and Edward Buckler identified genetic sequences linked to higher beta-carotene levels in corn and demonstrating an inexpensive and fast way to identify corn plants that will produce even higher levels. The study is considered a breakthrough in nutritional plant breeding.

Using purple bacteria for energy conversion devices

The cellular arrangement of purple bacteria could be adapted for use in solar panels and other energy conversion devices to offer a more efficient way to garner energy from the sun, according to a physicist at the University of Miami.

Purple bacteria were among the first life forms on Earth. They are single celled microscopic organisms that play a vital role in sustaining the tree of life. This tiny organism lives in aquatic environments like the bottom of lakes and the colourful corals under the sea, using sunlight as their source of energy. Its natural design seems the best structural solution for harvesting solar energy.

“These bacteria have been around for billions of years, you would think they are really simple organisms and that everything is understood about them. However, purple bacteria were recently found to adopt different cell designs depending on light intensity. Our study develops a mathematical model to describe the designs it adopts and why, which could help direct design of future photoelectric devices,” said Neil Johnson, head of the inter-disciplinary research group that conducted the study.

Zettabytes overtake petabytes

It’s goodbye petabytes and hello zettabytes — courtesy the tremendous growth of the ‘digital universe’.

At the moment, the total digital output of humanity stands at 8,000,000 petabytes. But owing to explosion of social networking, online video, digital photography and mobile phones, it is expected to pass 1.2 zettabytes this year, according to estimates. One zettabyte is equal to one million petabytes, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 individual bytes.

This amount of digital content, which can be either generated or stored, is equivalent to all the information that could be stored on 75bn Apple iPads, or generated by everyone in the world posting messages on the micro-blogging site Twitter constantly for a century.

The latest figures were released in the annual survey of the world’s digital output by IDC, the technology consultancy. According to the survey, the digital universe is forecast to expand by a factor of 44 over the next decade.

“A huge increase in video and digital photography — in the old days people would take one photograph, now they can knock off 20 photos and rather than store just one, people store all 20. Then there is the fact that the number of devices where information can be generated and stored has also increased,” said Adrian MacDonald. He is the vice president of EMC, the IT firm that sponsors the survey.

Fingertip temperature may reveal heart disease risk

The temperature of your fingertip could reveal the risk of cardiovascular disease, say researchers at the University of Houston.

VENDYS, a device mechanical engineering professors Stanley Kleis and Ralph Metcalfe helped develop, is allowing doctors to monitor how changes in blood flow affect finger temperature to measure an individual’s risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). The researchers have described how a mathematical model is assisting them to better understand the real-life physics behind VENDYS.

“This is the first paper on this topic, really, in biomedical engineering literature. VENDYS is helping move us from a risk assessment to an actual non-invasive measurement focused on a specific individual. This model will be essential in helping us make VENDYS a more accurate, cost-effective early detection method,” said Metcalfe.

Guided by the mathematical model, these researchers are examining how factors such as room temperature or a recent meal influence test results.

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