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The Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge

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We’ve all basked in the glow of different light bulbs: incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, neon, LED, and more. But a lamp that harbors living, light-emitting bacteria — a biological bulb, if you will — is something radically different from what’s available on the market today.

Three undergraduate students from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, hope to change that with the help of crowdfunding.

The young scientists, who are finalists in the Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge, recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for a kit that anyone can use to make a Biobulb.

“The Biobulb is essentially a closed ecosystem in a jar,” says biochemistry major Michael Zaiken in the team’s video pitch. “It’s going to contain several different species of microorganisms, and each organism plays a role in the recycling of vital nutrients that each of the other microbes need to survive.”

The kit’s key ingredient will be a genetically engineered species of Escherichia coli bacteria. These microbes live inside the intestines of humans and other animals, and they don’t normally glow in the dark. But Zaiken and his two teammates, Alexandra Cohn (a genetics and philosophy double-major) and AnaElise Beckman (a neurobiology and anthropology double-major), plan to insert a loop of DNA into E. coli that will allow the bacteria to bioluminesce like jellyfish, fireflies, squid, or some other light-producing lifeform.

Electricity won’t power the bulb. The genetically modified E. coli plus a growth media, microbes that use ambient light to create food and recycle waste, and a bulb should be able to glow and recharge repeatedly, perhaps for days or months. (Sort of like a glowing version of those aquatic ecosystems sealed into glass spheres that you see in airline catalogs.)

Biobulb isn’t available yet; the team still needs to study the best genes, kit ingredients, and caretaking methods. One of the current challenges is finding a way to keep the DNA that codes for bioluminescence inside the E. coli as the cells replicate. “Right now we are looking at a couple of strategies to keep the [bioluminescence] genes stable over long periods of time,” Zaiken says on the Biobulb project’s RocketHub page.

More than delivering a cool product, Cohn hopes the crowdfunding project will cast a positive light on the field of synthetic biology. “Many people don’t understand what exactly synthetic biology is,” she says.

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A Warmer Planet Might Make Deadly Bacteria More Resistant To Antibiotics

E. coli bacteria. NIAID

Tom Patterson became ill in 2023 while vacationing in Egypt. He was felled by Acinetobacter baumannii, an often deadly bacterium resistant to every antibiotic his doctors tried. Patterson, a University of California San Diego psychiatry professor, should have died, but didn’t. (Experimental infusions of bacteria-killing viruses known as bacteriophages ultimately saved his life.) But his near-death experience from a superbug he picked up in a warm country — an organism that also has afflicted many hospitalized wounded troops in Iraq and Kuwait — raises provocative questions about drug-resistant bacteria and their relationship to our increasingly hotter planet. “Travelers returning from tropical and other warm areas where multi-drug resistant pathogens have become more widespread will increasingly challenge the antibiotics on our shelves,” said Robert T. Schooley, an infectious diseases specialist at UC San Diego, who treated Patterson. “Turning up the temperature of the incubator in which we live will clearly speed the evolutionary clock of bacterial and other pathogens with which we must co-exist.” Experts already know that climate change has become a significant threat to global public health, particularly as rising temperatures have produced greater populations of disease-transmitting insects, such as mosquitoes. But warmth also encourages bacteria to grow, providing them a chance to mutate and elude drugs that once easily killed them. While antibiotic resistance is believed largely due to the indiscriminate prescribing of antibiotics, experts now think that other environmental stresses — climate change among them — also may be at work.

The world is confronting a growing and frightening danger from multi-drug-resistant infections, with many now difficult or impossible to treat. The World Health Organization has described this scenario as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” There are more than two million cases and 23,000 deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent study published in Nature Climate Change suggests that a link between climate change and bacterial resistance exists right here in the United States, particularly in its southern regions. Epidemiologists from Boston Children’s Hospital and the University of Toronto found that higher local temperatures and population densities correlated to a greater level of antibiotic resistance among a number of common bacterial strains.

A representation of antibiotic resistance caused by climate change. Fawn Gracey/Boston Children’s Hospital

“Most work to date on the effects of climate on infectious diseases have focused on vector-borne and diarrheal diseases,” said Derek MacFadden, a research fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and the study’s lead author. “However, our work suggests that climate may have an impact on antibiotic resistance in bacteria. If this is the case, then our expectations on how the burden of antibiotic resistance will change over time would need to consider climate — and may be underestimates.”

For their study, the researchers assembled a large database of U.S. antibiotic resistance information related to E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and S. aureus from a variety of sources, including hospital, laboratory and disease surveillance collected between 2013 and 2023. Their database totaled more than 1.6 million bacteria from 602 records in 223 facilities and 41 states — samples all isolated from people with resistant infections.

They then compared their data to latitude coordinates, as well as to mean and median local temperatures, and found that higher local average minimum temperatures correlated the most with antibiotic resistance. Local average minimum temperature increases of 10 degrees Celsius were linked to surges of 4.2, 2.2, and 3.6 percent in resistant strains of E. coli, K. pneumoniae, and S. aureus respectively, according to the study.

Finally, they also found that an increase of 10,000 people per square mile was related to 3 and 6 percent respective increases in resistance in E. coli and K. pneumoniae, indicating that population density also likely plays a role.

“Population growth and increases in temperature and antibiotic resistance are three phenomena that we know are currently happening on our planet,” said Mauricio Santillana, the study’s co-senior author and faculty member at Boston Children’s computational health informatics program. “But until now, hypotheses about how these phenomena relate to each other have been sparse. We need to continue bringing multidisciplinary teams together to study antibiotic resistance in comparison to the backdrop of population and environmental changes.”

The rising global surface temperature shows an increase of approximately 1.4°F since the early 20th century. NOAA

The study also found higher rates of antibiotic prescriptions across geographic regions in areas with increases in bacterial resistance.

While the study suggests the brunt of problem is occurring in the South, MacFadden warned that no part of the country was safe. “If temperature is playing a role, then the effects could be felt everywhere, typically in regions with the greatest potential changes in temperature over time as you move toward the poles,” he said.

UC San Diego’s Schooley — who was not involved in the study — said any number of biological factors likely are involved. “With warmer temperatures, environmental populations of bacteria might increase in size, the horizontal transmission of bacterial resistance genes might increase, and interactions with animal populations — from a health perspective — might also evolve,” he said.

Still, he added: “A 10-degree change in minimum temperature is a relatively big change in climate since they are talking about a 6-degree change in mean global temperature by the end of the century. Nonetheless, this is yet more food for thought about why those who trivialize the potential impact of climate change are putting the planet at risk.”

The study authors called for additional research. “We have found associations, and more work is needed to identify the consistency of these findings across regions and possible mechanisms,” MacFadden said.

John Brownstein, the other senior co-author and director of Boston Children’s computational epidemiology group, pointed out that public health estimates already predict a perilous escalation in antibiotic resistance in the coming years. “But with our findings that climate change could be compounding — and accelerating — an increase in antibiotic resistance, the future prospects could be significantly worse than previously thought,” he said.

Marlene Cimons writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.

Yahoo Answers Launches : User Powered Social Media

Yahoo Answers Launches : User Powered Social Media

Jeremy Zawodny has announced a new Yahoo Search service on the YSearchBlog, Yahoo Answers. Yahoo Answers at first glance seems to be a Yahoo user community where one can ask questions and have them answered by other Yahoo’ers or Yahoo staff. On Yahoo Answers users can ask a question on any topic and real people will post an answer to that question. The service is a good fit for Yahoo, which prides itself on its registered member base and user generated content (like Yahoo User Reviews).

Yahoo Answers also has all of the buzzes and whistles of a Yahoo Social Media product, with add to My Yahoo buttons, RSS, Yahoo Member Photos and Avatars, and Q&A categories. There seems to not be any tie ins to Yahoo Local, Yahoo Search, Yahoo Messenger or Yahoo 360 as of yet, but don’t be surprised if Jeremy & the Yahoo 2.0 crew figure out some way to tie all of these Social Media offerings together (think Yelp).

Yes, unlike some search engines, Yahoo does have a master plan for its Social Media & Search offerings (Yahoo Search Pyramid). It should also be noted that Google Answers, also offering user powered question answering, has been available for quite some time.

Jeremy posts on YSearchBlog : I’ve heard more than a few people struggling to answer a question who turn to their keyboard and proclaim, “I’ll just ask the Internet…” while typing something into a search box…But there are many times that keywords just don’t cut it—times when you need to ask a question to a group of humans. You know, real people..

Of course, it has categories for the questions, per category RSS feeds, notifications, and other goodies too…

Daybetter Smart Led Strip Lights Review: Ambient Light On A Budget

Creating ambient light in any room of your home doesn’t require an expensive electrician. Instead, do it yourself with Daybetter Smart LED Strip Lights. Control them remotely to set the mood for reading, relaxing, dancing, or anything else. I recently had the opportunity to try these lights out for myself to create custom light scenes for any occasion.

Overview of Features

The Daybetter Smart LED Strip Lights are long-lasting lights that are easy to install nearly anywhere. As long as you’re within 25 feet of an outlet, you’re good to go. Since they’re made to last at least 50,000 hours, you won’t need to install new lights for a while. For perspective, that’s over 2,000 days or over 5.5 years if you have them on constantly.

The set includes two 25 foot rolls of lights with 270 individual lights total. Easily control them one of four ways: IR remote, Tuya Smart app, or the control box. They’re also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control. You’re able to control the brightness, color, and turn them on and off with your voice.

Thanks to the app, you can create unique scenes using any of the 16 million colors. Try out built-in Scene modes or create your own. Set timers and schedules for automatic control based on your day and needs.

There’s even an option to sync your lights to music. The built-in mic picks up your music to create fun party lighting instantly.

In the Box

The Daybetter Smart LED Strip Lights include everything you need to get started right out of the box. A remote, the control box, a power adapter, and of course, the lights are all included. The included instruction manual is surprisingly clear to help you get set up quickly.

A slow, gentle transition between the main colors greets you from the moment you connect and plug in the lights. Use the 24-button remote or the Tuya Smart app to change the mode, adjust the brightness, turn them on/off, and more.

The control box includes the IR receiver to work with the remote. You must be within sight of it and within approximately 26 feet. I found it works better if you’re much closer. There are also two connection points to connect two rolls of lights.

While you can cut and connect the strips at predesignated points, it’s easier to just use the second connection point on the control box if you’re only using two strips.

An adhesive strip is on the strip itself. Even on the cleanest, driest surfaces, areas of the adhesive don’t seem to completely stick (only a few inches out of 50 feet for me).

If you have any small adhesive clips on hand, these work well for keeping the lights in place if you have issues. Use clear clips to avoid blocking any of your lights.

Getting Set Up

I started my test by using just the remote. Honestly, if you just want basic control, the remote is all you need. Make sure you don’t hide the receiver on the control box or the remote won’t work well.

There are 15 colors to choose from on the remote, but there are millions to select in the Tuya Smart app. I didn’t see much difference in the Strobe and Flash modes on the remote. In fact, both were rather slow and felt more like the Fade mode. However, the lights are nice and bright, but you can dim them to create a much softer atmosphere.

With the Tuya Smart app, make sure your phone or tablet is on a 2.4 GHz network or you can’t connect. If you have a dual-band router that doesn’t let you manually select, move as far from your router as you can to get it to switch to the 2.4 GHz network. Once you’ve set up the lights in the app, it works fine no matter where you are in your home.

The app guides you through the setup process. The only hard part was getting the lights into the rapid flash mode. I didn’t have any luck using the remote to turn them on and off as required. (The remote does turn them on and off but didn’t trigger the rapid flash mode required for the connection process.) I had to manually plug and unplug the lights from the outlet several times, waiting two seconds between each round.

After that, everything worked great. The app couldn’t be easier to use. It has a clean interface. Simply tap to choose your color. Set scenes, start syncing to music, create schedules, and more.

Cut the strips to fit your desired area by cutting on the predesignated cut points. These are clearly labeled. Cutting anywhere else could destroy the lights.

Lights in Action

The Daybetter Smart LED Strip Lights performed great overall. Any adjustments I made happened almost instantly. The vivid colors brightened the room with ease.

With Scenes, I was able to speed up the flashing, which creates more of a strobe effect. The Music mode worked better than expected. Instead of just rapidly flashing with every beat, it worked more off the vocals and lead instruments to create more unique patterns. There were some times when it didn’t seem to quite sync, though.

While the lights do get warm, they don’t get hot. I’m not sure how that warmth could mess with the adhesive over time, but it didn’t seem to affect it during my week-long test.

Final Thoughts

The Daybetter Smart LED Strip Lights are an extremely affordable way to add color-changing lights to any room. They’re for indoor use only since they’re not waterproof, but that’s listed clearly on the box.

They’re easy to control and set up. With millions of colors, you’ll always find the perfect light for the occasion. Both the app and remote work great to quickly control the lights.

My only complaints are relatively minor. I would love the see the Strobe and Flash modes be faster and the music sync to work more consistently. A bigger issue is with the adhesive, which doesn’t seem strong enough to last long term, especially since a few parts didn’t stick at all for me.

The price on Amazon alone is hard to beat at $35.99. However, it gets even better when you buy the Daybetter Smart LED Strip Lights using the discount code H5XKZABP on Amazon to get them for just $15.19.

Crystal Crowder

Crystal Crowder has spent over 15 years working in the tech industry, first as an IT technician and then as a writer. She works to help teach others how to get the most from their devices, systems, and apps. She stays on top of the latest trends and is always finding solutions to common tech problems.

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Can A Uv Light Kill The Stuff Growing On Your Keyboard?

I’m not a particularly germophobic person. I use hand sanitizer only when I hear people cough, I eat at my desk (and I pound the crumbs out of the keyboard once a month), and I live by the 5-second rule. But the arrival of the ViraShield, a $250 UV light device by VirWall that claims to kill the bacteria, viruses, and mold on your equipment, got me wondering about what kinds of nasties I was sharing my keyboard with–and whether I could really get rid of them. After all, those creepy-crawlies could be giving me the flu or salmonella. (Or maybe my chronic workplace fatigue crops up just because I’m, well, at work.)

After we did some testing to see what was already living on various pieces of equipment around the PCWorld offices (the results of which were fairly nauseating), we used the ViraShield and tested again. Our finding: In most cases, this overgrown sun lamp seems to help.

In Video: VirWall ViraShield UV Lamp

The ViraShield is a large ultraviolet lamp (26 by 11.75 by 5 inches) designed to fit over your keyboard or other small pieces of tech that you touch often–your smartphone, tablet, mouse, and so on. All you have to do is lay the ViraShield down on your desk, slip your gadgets underneath it, and press the big red button. The ViraShield goes on for about 20 seconds, and emits a loud beep when it’s done killing 99 percent of the bacteria, viruses, and mold living on your stuff. The manufacturer claims that one lamp will last for 5000 cycles, after which you’ll need to buy a new unit or have the custom UV lamp replaced by the manufacturer.

Of course, our usual product testing procedures don’t cover antibacterial testing, so to evaluate the ViraShield, I enlisted the help of our lab-science consultant Julia Seaman, a veteran lab tech and a grad student at nearby UCSF. We swabbed ten surfaces around the PCWorld offices–keyboards, mobile devices, even the coffee pot handle and my George Foreman Grill–before and after using the ViraShield on those surfaces, and we used those swabs to grow cultures in agar plates. Presumably, if the ViraShield is as effective as claimed, surfaces should have significantly fewer colonies of bacteria and mold after treatment with the ViraShield than they did before.

Overall, the ViraShield did fairly well. Seven of the ten surfaces had significantly fewer bacteria colonies in the posttreatment plate, while the plates for two surfaces didn’t grow much of anything before or after treatment. The last surface (desktops editor Nate Ralph’s iPod Touch, if you’re keeping track) showed a moderate amount of growth pretreatment but much more growth on the posttreatment plate. Still, nine out of ten isn’t bad.

We’ve saved the plate-by-plate treatment for the end, so that squeamish folks don’t have to look at the (rather revolting) details. Suffice it to say that if you’re worried about bacteria on your tech, and you’re willing to spend $250 to clean it, the VirWall ViraShield does a reasonable job. It won’t get everything–you still might want to clean your tech gear with antibacterial wipes or something else every now and then, especially in the nooks and crannies that the UV light doesn’t reach so well–but that isn’t a bad price for your peace of mind.

The Results

Subject #1: My Work Keyboard The pretreatment plate is almost completely overtaken by a yellow cloud of bacteria, while the posttreatment plate has a few bright yellow colonies growing near the actual swab marks but much less growth overall.

Subject #2: My Mouse The pretreatment plate shows a few colonies growing. Posttreatment is mostly clean.

Subject #3: My iPad The pretreatment plate grew a decent amount of bacteria, plus one rather unsightly mold spot. Posttreatment is mostly clean.

Subject #4: Editorial Assistant Alex Wawro’s Droid The pretreatment plate is speckled with a few colonies and a mold spot. The posttreatment plate is mostly clean.

Subject #5: Assistant Editor Nate Ralph’s iPod Touch The pretreatment plate has a few thin but wide swaths of growth. The posttreatment plate, however, is absolutely covered in colonies.

Subject #6: A Barnes & Noble Nook E-Reader The Nook we tested didn’t see much growth before or after treatment.

Subject #7: My George Foreman Grill It’s hard to see in this picture, but the pretreatment plate is completely clouded up with growth. The posttreatment plate is mostly clean.

Subject #8: PCWorld Art Director Beth Kamoroff’s Keyboard Beth has had the same keyboard for over a decade. The pretreatment plate grew one very large yellow bacteria colony, while the posttreatment plate was mostly clean except for one pronounced red spot of…something.

Subject #9: The Office Coffee Pot A few small bacteria colonies grew in the pretreatment plate. The post-treatment plate was mostly clean.

Subject #10: A Pair of Office Scissors These plates didn’t show much growth, before or after.

Using Light To Diagnose Parkinson’s

Using Light to Diagnose Parkinson’s Biomedical engineer Xue Han talks about her work in the new field of optogenetics

Boston University bioengineer Xue Han uses a technique called optogenetics—using pulses of light to control brain cells—to investigate psychiatric and neurological disorders. Video courtesy of WBUR. Photo by Cydney Scott

Xue Han investigates Parkinson’s disease with an unusual tool: light. Han is a pioneer in the young field of optogenetics, in which scientists reengineer nerve cells, or neurons, to respond to light, using molecules called opsins. Like ice cream, opsins come in many flavors—there’s rhodopsin in the human eye and halorhodopsin in bacteria, for instance—but they all share one key characteristic: they change shape when exposed to light.

By finding ways to implant opsins into neurons, Han, a Boston University College of Engineering assistant professor of biomedical engineering, has given researchers a simple tool to turn neurons on and off, and thereby study their function. The technique is now widely used to study brain activity, and it is leading to a better understanding of diseases and treatments.

In April 2014, Han traveled to Washington, D.C., where President Obama awarded her a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the US government’s highest honor for science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

BU Research spoke recently with Han.

BU Research: Who came up with the idea of using light to turn neurons on and off?

Han: Using light to control cells is not so new. In our retina there are all these rhodopsins that naturally are sensitive to light, but we can’t easily engineer the whole system into neurons. So the really novel part was sensitizing neurons to light so they’re easy to use.

So how did I get involved in this whole thing? I started my postdoc at Stanford in 2005, and that’s the same time that Ed Boyden, now an MIT associate professor, along with Karl Deisseroth, used this molecule called channelrhodopsin. They put it in neurons, and they were able to drive neural activities with the light. And the beauty of channelrhodopsin is that it’s a very small protein and it’s very easy to use.

Then Ed and I were thinking, since there’s a technology to excite neurons, can we also silence them? That led to the discovery of halorhodopsin, which allowed us just to do that. But it doesn’t do it really well. Who knows why? These are from bacteria, and you’re putting them in mammalian cells. That’s the complexity of biology.

So we said, let’s find a better one. We screened a whole bunch of proteins similar to halorhodopsins, and we found some other things that were similar, like proton pumps. We did not think they would work, but we thought, you know what? Let’s throw a couple in and see what happens. And we did that, and found that these proton pumps are way more effective in silencing neurons. And more importantly, from what we have tested, it’s safe for the neurons. It’s a powerful engineering tool—that we can excite or silence neurons now.

Are the tools getting closer to being used in patients?

Right now, my group is interested in how, in a disease like Parkinson’s, deep brain stimulation works. There are all these hypotheses about deep brain stimulation and its therapeutic effects. So the idea is that if you use light, then we can understand the mechanism and simultaneously see how the neurons respond and how they are contributing to Parkinson’s disease. These neurons in the Parkinsonian brain tend to oscillate or synchronize at a frequency of 20 hertz or so.

All the neurons in the brain, or just the Parkinsonian ones?

The Parkinsonian ones in a particular part of the brain.

All the neurons affected with Parkinson’s in a certain part of the brain are talking to each other at 20 hertz?

Not all of them. But somehow, more are talking to each other than normal.

That’s weird. Do other neurological diseases have different pathological oscillations?

That’s a great question. Can we establish some sort of oscillations as biomarkers of specific mental disorders? I think this is definitely a very interesting area. There’s certain evidence that a frequency around 40 hertz is associated with schizophrenia, but a coherent understanding would really help.

Why does Parkinson’s interest you?

I think for Parkinson’s, we are at a stage that things are converging. There’s a very good animal model for Parkinson’s, and the symptoms can be easily quantified, more easily than major depression or other types of mental disorders, like schizophrenia.

You’re married to Ed Boyden, who is also a leader in optogenetics. Do you two collaborate?

Well, we collaborate still. It’s hard not to collaborate, right? But you know, we have two small kids, so as soon as we start a conversation someone spills milk, and that conversation goes nowhere.

Do you tell your kids about your work? Are they interested?

Certainly there are scientific terms we use that our babysitter would not really understand. This morning my son was asking me how the Earth was generated. I told him the Earth was here when he was born, and I told him I was here, and so I started to explain it to him a little bit. It’s hard not to.

Where do you think diagnosing and treating neurological diseases will be 20 or 30 years from now? How will your work fit in?

A lot of parts can be replaced, but when it comes to the brain, we are not there yet. In Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, we know the neurons are dying. Is there some replacement we can do? If we have a biomarker, we can probably start to develop more human therapies. So that’s what I’m hoping: we’ll treat these disorders before we’re old enough to get them ourselves. So we need to hurry up.

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