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Category: photosynthesis

Light-sensitive bacteria could save you during a heart attack

Heart attacks are frightening by themselves, but they're made worse by the potential for lasting damage. Even a brief interruption to blood flow could permanently destroy vital tissue that keeps your heart beating as usual. However, there might be a way to mitigate or even prevent that damage. Scientists have discovered that a light-sensitive bacteria, synechococcus elongatus, can keep oxygen coming in the midst of a heart attack. Much like a plant, the bacteria both draws on photosynthesis for energy and turns both CO2 and water into oxygen. If you expose it to light soon after the attack, you can maintain oxygen levels and increase the heart's blood-pumping ability after the attack is over.

In lab rats, the results were dramatic. Oxygen levels were 25 times higher 10 minutes after the attack, and the hearts pumped 60 percent more blood 45 minutes after the attack. If you could use this as an emergency treatment in humans, it could mean the difference between outright heart failure and a reasonably healthy patient.

The emphasis is on "if," however. It's easy to shine light into the small body of a rat; it's tougher to do that with humans, who have thicker heart muscles (and are much larger, of course). There's also the question of whether or not the bacteria are completely safe. Don't count on this solution reaching hospitals soon, if at all. Nonetheless, the discovery is promising: it suggests that there's a way to protect your heart against long-term harm even as doctors race to save you from the immediate threat.

Source: Science, Science Advances

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This pollinating bee drone shows the powers of these endangered creatures

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Bees in the U.S. are more endangered than ever, requiring protection under the Endangered Species Act for the very first time back in October.

Now a college student in Georgia is showing the world just how environmentally vital these creatures really are — by creating a bee drone that pollinates flowers.

Anna Haldewang, a 24-year-old senior at the Savannah College of Art and Design, created a black and yellow device called Plan Bee as a design project for a class.

It's a single prototype that's made out of foam, plastic and a set of propellers that takes it into the air. When you flip the hand-sized drone upside down, it looks like a flower with six little sections that mimic petals. Those sections each contain tiny holes that the drone uses to suck in pollen. From there, the drone stores that pollen and later releases it during cross-pollination. Read more...

More about Science, Bees, Photosynthesis, Nature, and Drones
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Ultrafast lasers capture elusive photosynthesis reactions

Using ultra-rapid lasers, researchers have created the first "movie" of photosynthesis chemical reactions that shows exactly how fast they happen. The finding proves that a key process that strips electrons from water, starting the conversion of solar into chemical energy, happens more quickly than previously thought. "We can now see how nature has optimized the physics of converting light energy to fuel," says study author Jasper van Thor. The work could help scientists improve artificial photosynthesis to produce biofuels more efficiently.

The researchers from Imperial College London wanted to find out exactly how fast the so-called Photosystem II enzyme reaction works. That process, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, was thought to be the bottleneck, or slowest part of photosynthesis. In contrast, the first part of photosynthesis, where light is harvested by an "antenna complex" of proteins and clorophyll molecules, was thought to be faster.

Can we mimic it or tune it to make artificial photosynthesis more efficient? These questions, and many others, can now be explored.

Slow and fast are relative terms here, because the process actually happens in picoseconds, or trillionths of a second. To measure it more precisely, scientists first created crystals of the Photosystem II enzyme, then zapped them with a sophisticated laser system. The process, which was developed in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is described in an earlier paper.

Using infrared spectroscopy, the team was able to measure electron movements across tiny parts of the system to see when energy was transferred. Their measurements proved that the water-splitting process happens more quickly than the antenna complex light harvesting, a result that upends decades of teachings. "We can now show that what I was lectured as an undergraduate in the 1990s is no longer supported," van Thor says.

Furthermore, the team has essentially created a movie of key parts of the photosynthesis process, which lasts just a few nanoseconds (billionths of a second). This lets scientists understand what the molecule is doing in very small time slices during the process, helping them better understand and even improve it. "Can we mimic it or tune it to make artificial photosynthesis more efficient? These questions, and many others, can now be explored," says van Thor.

Via: Imperial College London

Source: Nature

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Dutch scientists’ artificial leaf can create medicine anywhere

Wouldn't it be great to have the ability to concoct medicine anywhere the sun shines, even if it's on another planet? A team of Dutch scientists from Eindhoven University of Technology have developed an artificial leaf-like device that could make that happen. The researchers, inspired by plants that can make their own food through photosynthesis, used materials that can match leaves' capability to capture and store sunlight for later use. These materials are called luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs), which have special light-sensitive molecules that can capture huge amounts of incoming light.

The team designed a device that looks like a leaf by incorporating thin, microchannels mimicking veins in a silicon rubber LSC. By pumping liquids into those channels, their molecules can get into contact with the sunlight absorbed by the LSC. The energy is intense enough to trigger chemical reactions. According to the researchers, the device's chemical production was 40 percent higher than the rate demonstrated by similar experiments without LSC. "Using a reactor like this means you can make drugs anywhere, in principle, whether malaria drugs in the jungle or paracetamol on Mars," lead researcher Dr. Timothy Noël explained. "All you need is sunlight and this mini-factory."

Source: Eindhoven University of Technology

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ICYMI: The balloon bot that can actually stand upright

ICYMI: The balloon bot that can actually stand upright

Today on In Case You Missed It: A scientist at UCLA's Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory is experimenting with a way to get around the fact that robots have a difficult time maintaining a high center of gravity, aka they always fall down; so he's built something that looks like a balloon on stick insect legs. It's still very much a prototype but perhaps the idea will remain in future walking bots. Meanwhile, scientists at SLAC came up with a way to spot photosynthesis at room temperature, using an X-ray laser. Previous tests had always relied on freezing leaves to track it.

If you're getting your projects in order for the coming weekend, we recommend the DIY fire tornado. If you're looking for the Rubix Cube solving bot, that's here. As always, please share any interesting tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.

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