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Gizmorama - May 2, 2016

Good Morning,


Scientists have turned DNA into a thermometer. Okay. What's next, turning chromosomes into a compass? Hey, that would actually be cool!

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

Until Next Time,
Erin


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*-- Scientists build world's tiniest thermometer out of DNA --*

MONTREAL - Scientists in Canada have successfully turned programmable DNA into a thermometer -- the world's smallest.

DNA molecules unfold when heated. Previous research has shown that some biomolecules, like genetic proteins or RNA, relay temperature readings inside living organisms by folding and unfolding.

"Inspired by those natural nanothermometers, which are typically 20,000-times smaller than a human hair, we have created various DNA structures that can fold and unfold at specifically defined temperatures," Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, a researcher at the University of Montreal, said in a news release.

DNA code is long and complex and it performs a virtually endless combination of biochemical functions, but its basic chemical composition is rather simple, which makes it relatively easy to restructure and program for new tasks.

"DNA is made from four different monomer molecules called nucleotides: nucleotide A binds weakly to nucleotide T, whereas nucleotide C binds strongly to nucleotide G," explained study author David Gareau.

The researchers rearranged these nucleotides to fold and unfold at specific temperatures, attaching optical markers to relay the temperature information via light.

The discovery, detailed in the journal Nano Letters, could be applied in the field of nanotechnology.

"In the near future, we also envision that these DNA-based nanothermometers may be implement in electronic-based devices in order to monitor local temperature variation at the nanoscale," added Vallée-Bélisle.

The findings may also aid scientists' understanding of molecular biology. Researchers know the body's temperature stays relatively stable, but are curious to find out if there are wider fluctuations within cells. They also want to know if natural nanostructures can overheat when overworked like man-made electronics and machines.


*-- Brainless slime capable of learning --*

TOULOUSE, France - Most people would say being intelligent requires a brain. New research suggests it's not necessary for learning. A study out of France showcases the learning capabilities of a brainless single-celled organism.

All living organisms have to adapt, even those without a brain or central nervous system. A plethora of research has highlighted the ability of bacteria, viruses and other single-celled organisms to adapt behavior -- to build up resistance to antibiotics or adopt new hosts.

These changes happen over generations, however. They are evidence of evolution, not learning as most scientists have defined it.

A protist, or slime mold, named Physarum polycephalum is changing the way scientists think about the evolution of learning and intelligence.

To test the protist's ability to adapt across a shorter time frame, scientists at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and the University of Toulouse subjected to the slime mold to a simple obstacle course -- a food source located across a bridge.

For some slime groups, the bridge, a petri dish, was impregnated with a bitter but harmless substance. Some faced a puddle of coffee, others were blocked by a pool of quinine. A control group had only to cross an unpolluted bridge.

At first, the slime molds were reluctant to cross the bitter obstacle, and were slow to cross as they avoided touching the substance. But slowly they learned the substances were harmless, and after six days, they were crossing the bridge at the same speeds as the control group.

Their learned tolerance was limited to the specific substance. A protist that had learned to wade through coffee was once again apprehensive when blocked by quinine. A two-day break from testing also erased the learning.

Researchers call this basic form of learning "habituation."

The experiment's results were published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Documenting learning in non-neural organisms such as slime molds is centrally important to a comprehensive, phylogenetic understanding of when and where in the tree of life the earliest manifestations of learning evolved," researchers wrote.

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