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Gizmorama - January 30, 2017

Good Morning,

There's really only one way to replicate ocean life, you use underwater robots. That's right, just keep swimming.

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

Until Next Time,

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*--- Researches replicate ocean life with swarm of underwater robots ---*

SAN DIEGO - Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography wanted to know what life is like for plankton. To find out, they built a fleet of mini underwater robots designed to mimic plankton existence.

For now, there are 16 of the miniature autonomous underwater explorers, or M-AUEs, but someday scientists could deploy thousand of the devices. Each robot is roughly the size of a grapefruit and is outfitted with sensors to measure temperature and current.

The bots constantly swim up and down to maintain their position just beneath the surface. Like real plankton, they let currents do most of the work of transportation.

Researchers designed the swarm of bots to help them understand how and why plankton move and accumulate as they do. Scientists were specifically keen on figuring out why plankton tend to concentrate in "patches" just beneath the ocean surface, only later revealing their presence during red tides and similar phenomena.

"These patches might work like planktonic singles bars," Peter Franks, a biological oceanographer at Scripps, part of the University of California, San Diego, said in a news release.

Franks was hopeful the plankton-mimicking bots would confirm a mathematical theory he developed two years ago to describe plankton patches. Franks' theory posited that internal waves -- ocean waves beneath the surface -- push groups of plankton into dense patches.

The early returns supported his hypothesis.

Data returned by the bots showed currents generated by internal waves encouraged the formation of tightly knit patches, while wave crests had a dispersion effect. Researchers published the initial findings in the journal Nature Communications.

"This is the first time such a mechanism has been tested underwater," said Franks.

Researchers believe their technology could be used to study a variety of other dynamic underwater systems.

*-- Nanotube sensor can detect a single protein molecule --*

BOSTON - MIT scientists have developed a new sensor capable of detecting the presence of a single protein molecule. The technology could be used to track viral infections, analyze cellular functions and study other biochemical processes involving small amounts of proteins.

"We hope to use sensor arrays like this to look for the 'needle in a haystack,'" Michael Strano, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT, explained in a news release. "These arrays represent the most sensitive molecular sensing platforms that we have available to us technologically. You can functionalize them so you can see the stochastic fluctuations of single molecules binding to them."

Like sensors Strano and his colleagues have designed in the past, the new array is made up of chemically modified carbon nanotubes. The rings of carbon naturally emit fluorescent light when hit with a laser. Strano and his research partners coat the carbon nanostructures in DNA, proteins or other molecules that bind to a target molecule. When the nanotubes' coating binds with the target, the sensor's fluorescence changes in a predictable manner.

The newest array features carbon nanotubes coated with aptamers, a type of DNA chain. Researchers used a "spacer" sequence to free up each end of the aptamer chains, allowing both the end attached to the sensor and the binding end to function uninhibitedly.

Researchers used the new sensor to detect the presence of a RAP1 and HIV1 integrase, a signaling protein and viral protein respectively. The sensor -- described in the journal Nature Nanotechnology -- is extremely precise and can monitor the protein production of a single bacterial, human, or yeast cell.

"Nanosensor arrays like this have no detection limit," Strano said. "They can see down to single molecules."

Researchers believe the new sensor will aid efforts to better understand disease and develop drugs. The array could even help scientists engineer human cells to produce therapeutic proteins.

"We think these nanosensor arrays are going to be useful tools for measuring these precious cells and making sure that they're performing the way that you want them to," Strano concluded.


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