SOUTH AMERICA ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY,
AND HEALTH NEWSLETTER
issue, May 7, 2013
SCIENCE: President Obama Unveils “The BRAIN Initiative”
President Obama unveiled the “BRAIN” Initiative—a bold new research effort to revolutionize our
understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain
disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.
The BRAIN Initiative — short for Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies —
builds on the President’s State of the Union call for historic investments in research and
development to fuel the innovation, job creation, and economic growth that together create a
thriving middle class.
The Initiative promises to accelerate the invention of new technologies that will help researchers
produce real-time pictures of complex neural circuits and visualize the rapid-fire interactions of cells
that occur at the speed of thought. Such cutting-edge capabilities, applied to both simple and
complex systems, will open new doors to understanding how brain function is linked to human
behavior and learning, and the mechanisms of brain disease.
In his remarks this morning, the President highlighted the BRAIN Initiative as one of the
Administration’s “Grand Challenges” – ambitious but achievable goals that require advances in
science and technology to accomplish. The President called on companies, research universities,
foundations, and philanthropies to join with him in identifying and pursuing additional Grand
Challenges of the 21st century—challenges that can create the jobs and industries of the future
while improving lives. In addition to fueling invaluable advances that improve lives, the pursuit of
Grand Challenges can create the jobs and industries of the future.
That’s what happened when the Nation took on the
Grand Challenge of the Human Genome Project. As a
result of that daunting but focused endeavor, the cost
of sequencing a single human genome has declined
from $100 million to $7,000, opening the door to
Like sequencing the human genome, President
Obama’s BRAIN Initiative provides an opportunity to
rally innovative capacities in every corner of the Nation
and leverage the diverse skills, tools, and resources
from a variety of sectors to have a lasting positive
impact on lives, the economy, and our national
Read more: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/04/02/brain-
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* Free translation prepared by REO staff.
Obama Unveils The
Ready for Mass
Technology for Early
Science: A New
Material Made of Sun
Breath Carries a
Unique to Each
June 5, 2013
June 28-29, 2013
Peru Green Build 2013
Expo & International
Congress, Lima, Peru
July 10-12, 2013
Eolica, Buenos Aires,
In this issue:
Photo by TZA (flickr user). Under Creative Commons License.
Harvard University has developed a method for churning out coin-size microrobots en
masse. By drawing on the ideas of origami, researchers have engineered a fabrication
technique that produces a small flying robot much the way a children's pop-up book cre-
ates a structure.
The method can be used for different types of millimeter-scale electromechanical ma-
chines, Harvard said yesterday. But researchers developed the system specifically to re-
place the painstakingly slow process of manually making insect-like flying robots for its
RoboBees project. "You'd take a very fine tungsten wire and dip it in a little bit of super-
glue," Pratheev Sreetharan, a doctoral student who co-developed the technique, said in a
statement. "Then, with that tiny ball of glue, you'd go in under a microscope like an ar-
throscopic surgeon and try to stick it in the right place."
The research group made prototype RoboBees with its method which they say can be scaled up through automation. The group
extensively used CAD software to model a multilayered "assembly platform" made of carbon fiber, plastic, and other materials.
Once that platform is created, the manufacturing machine pushes pins from below which cause the microrobot "pop up" from the
underlying structure and lock into shape.
The device is then dipped in liquid metal to fix brass joints and prevent it from unlocking. Finally, a laser cuts the robot from the
bottom assembly and it is ready to use. The MicroBees project is seeking to develop autonomous flying robots inspired by flying
insects. Harvard researchers envision they can be used to pollinate crops because natural bee colonies have been dying in large
numbers. The MicroBees could also be used for search and rescue missions, military surveillance, and weather and climate moni-
toring, according to Harvard.
The idea of using large numbers of small robots for a specific task has led to research to better manage and manufacture microro-
bots. Harvard also developed a system that allows people to update the software on several walking microbots, called Kilobots, at
Read more at: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57379150-76/robobees-ready-for-mass-production-thanks-harvard/
The research team of the Japanes company Shimadzu, directed by 2002 Chemistry Nobel Prize winner, Koichi Tanaka, has devel-
oped a technology that might be useful for faster Alzheimer diagnosis. By using this new instrument, researchers can detect small
amounts of a substance that can be found in Alzheimer patients’ blood.
Tanaka’s team achieved this by improving the accuracy of the mass spectrometry technology, detecting the accumulation of beta-
amiloid protein in blood, one of the possible causes of Alzheimer’s, as it affects brain neuronal transmission. According to research
results, this protein is accumulated in the brain for 10-15 years before the first symptoms appear. This protein is also accumulated
in the blood, but in such small amounts that its identification following regular tests is
very complicated. However, with this new technology developed by Tanaka’s team, detec-
tion will be possible.
Presently, patients have to pass through Positron Emission Tomography (PET) or need to
be tested for cephalorachidian fluid, both complex and painful procedures. This new tech-
nique is now being tested in collaboration with the Japanese Geriatrics and Gerontology
Center, to determine the relation between the amount of beta-amyloid protein present in
blood and the manifestation of this disease.
In 2002, Tanaka received the Chemistry Nobel Prize, along with the U.S. citizen John Fenn,
and Swiss Kurt Wüthrich, for work with biological macromolecules.
Read more at: http://elcomercio.pe/actualidad/1555775/noticia-ganador-nobel-quimica-desarrolla-tecnologia-
SCIENCE: RoboBees Ready For Mass Production. Thanks, Harvard! By Martin LaMonica
This insect-inspired microrobot was made from the assembly
platform next to it in a manufacturing process that could be
automated. (Credit: Screen capture Martin LaMonica/CNET)
HEALTH: 2002 Nobel Prize Develops Technology for Early Alzheimer’s Diagnosis*
Alzheimer's disease brain. www.microbiologybytes.com.
Photo by AJC1 (flickr user). Under Creative Commons
Transparent nanocellulose is more resistant than iron and, according to rough estimates, it can
generate a US$600,000-million industry by 2020. This material is eight times more resistant
than stainless steel, and is transparent, light, an electricity conductor, and some people affirm
that this material will transform agriculture as we know it today.
Transparent nanocellulose is obtained by the compression of vegetable fibers or cultivated by
using microorganisms such as bacteria. For some people, transparent nanocellulose is a more
ecological and easy-to-access option than the famous graphene, and its applications include
pharmaceutical, cosmetic, plastic, electronic, and biofuel industries.
A big concern of nanocellulose followers had been how to manufacture it in large amounts and
at low cost. Today, scientists believe that they have found the technique to make cultures of this material in large quantities, by
using genetically modified algae. Malcom Brown, professor of biology at the University of Texas and pioneer in this research field,
explained how this process would work in the First International Symposium on Nanocellulose.
This algae belongs to a family of the same bacteria used to produce vinegar, known as cyanobacteria. These organisms need water
and sunlight only, and absorb the excess of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “If we can complete the last steps, we will inspire
a major transformation in agriculture” said Brown. “We will have plants to produce nanocellulose, in an abundant and cheap way,
useful for the sustainable production of biofuels.
Read more at: http://elcomercio.pe/actualidad/1561835/noticia-milagroso-y-resistente-material-hecho-base-sol-agua
Stable, specific 'breathprints' unique to an individual exist and may have applications as diagnostic tools in personalized medicine.
Bodily fluids contain lots of information about the health status of a person. Medical doctors routinely have blood and urine ana-
lysed in order to obtain hints for infectious and metabolic diseases, to diagnose cancer and organ failure, and to check the dose of
medication, based on compounds present in these body fluids.
Researchers at ETH Zurich and at the University Hospital Zurich now propose to extend such analyses to breath, and in particular to
take advantage of modern high-resolution analytical methods that can provide real-time information on the chemical composition
of exhaled breath.
Unbiased Chemical Analysis of Breath. The scientists developed an instrument-based version of a principle that has been known
for a long time in traditional Chinese medicine: TCM doctors draw conclusions about the health state of a patient based on the
smell of the exhaled breath. It is also known that trained dogs and rats can distinguish the smell of the breath of people suffering
from certain variants of cancer. In these cases the entire smell of the patient's exhaled breath is gauged, which can give rise to bias.
The scientists, led by Renato Zenobi, professor at the Laboratory for Organic Chemistry, aim at
eliminating this bias and identifying the chemical compounds in breath. Like this, doctors should be
able to use specific compounds, which are present in breath at minute concentrations, for medical
Using mass spectrometry, these goals can be reached, as shown in a recent study where the ETH
researchers analysed the exhaled breath of eleven volunteers. They found that the chemical
"fingerprint" of exhaled breath, largely based on volatile and semi-volatile metabolites, shows an
individual core pattern. Each volunteer was found to have his/her own characteristic "breathprint."
Stable Pattern. Using regular measurements extending over 11 days, the researchers could fur-
thermore show that this metabolic "breathprint" stays constant. "We did find some small varia-
tions during the day, but overall the individual pattern stays sufficiently constant to be useful for
medical purposes," says Pablo Martinez-Lozano Sinues, senior scientist in Zenobi's research group.
If the measurements would show too large variations, they would not be useful for medical diagno-
Read full article at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130403200254.htm
SCIENCE: A New Material Made of Sun and Water*
Photo by Eric Christian Photography(flickr user).
Under Creative Commons License.
Photo by Inventia (flickr user). Under Creative Commons
HEALTH: Exhaled Breath Carries a Molecular 'Breathprint' Unique to Each Individual
What's your ideal environment? Sunny, 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius) and a light breeze? How about living in nearly
boiling water that's so acidic it eats through metal? Or residing in a muddy, oxygenless soup far saltier than any ocean? If you're an
extremophile, that might sound perfect.
Extremophiles are organisms that live in "extreme" environments. The name, first used in 1974 in a paper by a scientist named R.D.
MacElroy, literally means extreme-loving [source: Townsend]. These hardy creatures are remarkable not only because of the envi-
ronments in which they live, but also because many of them couldn't survive in supposedly normal, moderate environments. For
example, the microorganism Ferroplasma aci-diphilum -needs a large amount of iron to survive, quantities that would kill most
other life forms. Like other extremophiles, F. acidiphilum may recall an ancient time on Earth when most organisms lived in harsh
conditions similar to those now favored by some extremophiles, whether in deep-sea vents, geysers or nuclear waste.
Extremophiles aren't just bacteria. They come from all three branches of the three domain classification system: Archaea, Eubacte-
ria and Eukaroyta. The discovery of extremophiles, beginning in the 1960s, has caused scientists to reassess how life began on
Earth. Numerous types of bacteria have been found deep underground, an area previously considered a dead zone (because of lack
of sunlight) but now seen as a clue to life's origins. In fact, the majority of the planet's bacteria live underground
These specialized, rock-dwelling extremophiles are called endoliths (all underground bacteria are endoliths, but some endoliths are
nonbacterial organisms). Scientists speculate that endoliths may absorb nutrients
moving through rock veins or subsist on inorganic rock matter. Some endoliths may
be genetically similar to the earliest forms of life that developed around 3.8 billion
years ago. For comparison, Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and multicellular or-
ganisms developed relatively recently compared to unicellular, microbial life. In this
article, we'll look at how extremophiles aid in the search for the origins of life; why
extremophiles are useful in industrial science and why extremophiles may lead us to
life on other planets. First, let's look at how extremophiles are classified.
Classifying Extremophiles. Every year, researchers discover and name thousands of
new species. In recent years, microorganisms have formed an important part of this
enormous growth in species discovery. More than 2 million species have been identi-
fied around the planet, but some experts speculate that 100 million or more may ex-
ist [source: Thompson].
But there's more to finding new species than naming and cataloging them. And for
comparing living creatures, nothing beats a good classification system. The two most
popular methods in use are the five kingdom and the three domain systems. Created
in the late 1960s, the five kingdoms separate life into Monera, the kingdom of pro-
karyotes (cells lacking membrane-bound nuclei and organelles) that includes bacteria,
as well as four eukaryotic (cells with membrane-bound nuclei and organelles) king-
doms: Protista, Fungi, Plantae and Animalia.
For a short while, the five kingdoms seemed to serve scientists well. But in the 1970s, a scientist named Carl Woese decided to
classify organisms based on genetic differences rather than differences in visual appearance. When Woese began his classification
efforts, he noticed that there were distinctions between some types of organisms that had been previously lumped together as
bacteria because they were all prokaryotes. Woese found that bacteria and this other, previously unidentified group of organisms
had likely split apart from a common ancestor billions of years ago. Thinking that these other organisms deserved their own cate-
gory, he divided the Monera kingdom of prokaryotes into archaebacteria (later called archaea) and eubacteria. His third domain
was reserved for eukarya. We'll explain those terms in a second.
Woese found that many archaea were extremophiles and considered this fact evidence of their ancient provenance ("archaea"
means ancient). -Archaea are a diverse group of organisms with their own unique type of rRNA, different from bacteria-. (rRNA
produces polypeptides, which help to form proteins.) In many cases, extremophile archaea have developed mechanisms relating to
their cell membranes to protect them from hostile environments. [...]
Read full article at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/cellular-microscopic/extremophile.htm
SCIENCE: How Extremophiles Work By Jacob Silverman
The brilliant colors come from microbes that have evolved to
thrive in this extreme environment of boiling acid. (This photo
is straight from the camera, with no editing. The colors really
do look like that.) Photo by Steve Jurvetson (flickr user). Under
Creative Commons License.
It's important to note that these organisms are 'extreme' only
from a human perspective. While oxygen, for example, is a
necessity for life as we know it, some organisms flourish in
environments with no oxygen at all.