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UC Berkeley researchers took inspiration from a turkey's color-changing wattle to design a biosensor that detects toxins or pathogens. Turkey wattles change between blue and red as the blood vessels between the collagen fibers swell or contract. The researchers used benign viruses to self-assemble into collagen fiber-like structures that change colors as they expand and contract when exposed to chemicals like hexane, methanol, and even TNT.
“In our lab, we study how light is generated and changes in nature, and then we use what we learn to engineer novel devices,” said professor Seung-Wuk Lee who co-led the research.
MIT researchers built a 70-pound robot "cheetah" meant to demonstrate the high efficiency of a new electric motor design. Among other improvements, the design enables the impact energy of the robot's leg hitting the ground to be captured and fed into the robot's battery. Soon, they expect the motors to enable the cheetah-bot to gallop at 35 mph which, of course, is still just half the speed of a real cheetah. However, it will hit those speeds much more efficiently than other running robots. Read the rest
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The biology behind the green glow of Japanese freshwater eels could lead to new tests for jaundice and liver problems. RIKEN research institute scientists determined that a substance found in bile, bilirubin, is what triggers a protein in the eel, called UnaG (after unagi), to glow. Turns out, the amount of bilirubin in humans is a good indicator of liver health. Using a synthetic version of UnaG, the scientists could measure the bilirubin in a blood sample based on its glow. A similar technique may also aid in the study of tumors. "An eel's glow could illuminate liver disease" (Science News)
This is a microscopic image of a porcupine quill. Harvard medical researcher Jeffrey Karp and his colleagues are studying the quills to determine whether they might inspire a new design in hypodermic needles. According to their paper published today in PNAS, the barbs on the quill enable it to slide in smoothly but keep it in place, characteristics that would be useful in, say, an IV drip. (Smithsonian)