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Gizmorama - March 7, 2016

Good Morning,

A new robotic "skin" is being developed. Oh, and this new skin is extra stretchy, too! This will come in handy when robots want to get some work done. Sarcasm from me about useful developments from the scientific community.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Researchers find glue that binds biomolecules in nucleolus --*

MEMPHIS - New research revealed a glue-like protein called nucleophosmin, NPM1, binds together the biomolecules inside the nucleolus.

The nucleolus is the largest part of a cell's nucleus. It's a membrane-less structure organized to execute specific functions. The organelle is made up of proteins and ribonucleic acids, or RNA, which fuse in process called liquid-liquid phase separation.

Until now, researchers didn't know the molecular foundation of the nucleolus. Because the nucleolus plays an essential role in building proteins, NPM1s ability to bind with a variety of proteins is especially useful.

"The nucleolus performs a specialized function, and NPM1 seems to have evolved to assist in the process by being able to phase separate with these two important and very different types of nucleolar molecules," Richard Kriwacki, a researcher and structural biologists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, said in a press release. "NPM1 is like the glue that holds different factors required for ribosome assembly within the nucleolus."

Previous research has identified NPM1 has an important binding partner for the tumor suppressor protein ARF. More than a third of patients with acute myeloid leukemia have mutated NPM1.

In watching the nucleolus under a microscope and using fluorescent protein tagging, scientists discovered that NPM1's flexible shape allows it to form loose bonds with many different proteins and RNA.

The ability to form loose biomolecular bonds is key to encouraging phase separation and holding on to important proteins and amino acids in the nucleolus.

"There are other proteins in the nucleolus that have some of the same features as NPM1, including the negatively charged amino acid tracts," Kriwacki said. "That suggests that NPM1 is probably not the only protein contributing to phase separation in the nucleolus, but our studies show that it certainly is a very important player."

Researchers published their findings in the journal eLife.

*-- Researchers unveil light-up, stretchable robot skin --*

ITHACA, N.Y. - New robotic "skin" developed by researchers at Cornell University can stretch up to six times its original size while still emitting light.

The electroluminescent material is inspired by the dynamic, light-producing skin of the octopus. The skin can stretch up to twice as much as the next-best stretchable display, and could be employed in the fields of health care, transportation and electronic communications.

"This material can stretch with the body of a soft robot, and that's what our group does," Rob Shepherd, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, said in a press release. "It allows robots to change their color, and it also allows displays to change their shape."

The skin's hyper-elastic light-emitting capacitor, or HLEC, is made up of thin rubber pixels. The pixels are composed of sandwich-like layers, with transparent hydrogel electrodes surrounded by silicone. In addition to stretching and producing light, the skin can be electronically manipulated and respond to touch.

Researchers are working on incorporating their technology into both hard- and soft-bodied robotic systems. Their initial prototype -- designed and built by Shepherd and a team of grad students -- is a soft-bodied inchworm-like robot that scoots along the ground as it lights up.

As robots become more sociable and engaging the ability to change colors will be important -- more than just a cool visual effect.

"When robots become more and more a part of our lives, the ability for them to have emotional connection with us will be important," said Shepherd. "So to be able to change their color in response to mood or the tone of the room we believe is going to be important for human-robot interactions."

Shepherd and his research partners described their new technology in a paper published Friday in the journal Science.


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