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Gizmorama - November 13, 2017

Good Morning,

Paper is making a comeback! This new smart paper can sense water and conduct electricity. And you thought that paper was only good for making copies!

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

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists design smart paper capable of detecting water, conducting electricity --*

Scientists at the University of Washington have designed smart paper capable of sensing water and conducting electricity. The paper could be used to detect water leaks in city pipes.

Even small leaks in a city's maze of pipes can prove costly. Left alone, the problem can get worse. And finding the leak can prove timely. The American Water Works Association estimate leaks cause 250,000 water line breaks every year, costing public water utilities an annual sum of $2.8 billion.

Scientists hope their new smart paper can shrink those costs by making it easier to find and fix leaks.

The paper can sense the presence of water and conduct an electric current to sound an alarm or trigger a light, alerting maintenance authorities to the presence of a leak.

"Water sensing is very challenging to do due to the polar nature of water, and what is used now is very expensive and not practical to implement," Anthony Dichiara, assistant professor of bioresource science and engineering at UW's School of Environment and Forest Sciences, said in a news release. "That led to the reason to pursue this work."

Scientists used the standard paper making process but mixed the wood fiber pulp with nanomaterials capable of detecting water and conducting current.

The technology originally came about by accident. Researchers were simply trying to make a paper capable of powering an LED light. When a few drops of water spilled onto their paper, the light was disrupted. The scientists thought they'd ruined their technology. In fact, they'd created water-sensitive paper.

The water swells the fibrous wood cells disrupting the current, but as the paper dries, the nanomaterials reform the conductive network.

The paper can also be designed to trigger a current when it detects water. Researchers believe the paper could be outfitted with a battery and wrapped around pipes or positioned between complex intersections of pipes. When the paper detects a water leak, a current will alert maintenance workers.

"I believe that for large-scale applications, this is definitely doable," Dichiara said. "The price for nanomaterials is going to drop, and we're already using an established papermaking process. You just add what we developed in the right place and time in the process."

The carbon nanomaterials are composed of carbon atoms that can be extracted from a variety of natural sources. Scientists burned banana peels, tree bark, animal feces and even wood to create charcoal, from which carbon atoms can be extracted and incorporated into the paper making process.

"Now we have a sustainable process where everything is from pulp and paper, and we can make conductive materials from them," Dichiara said.

Researchers described their discovery in a new paper published the November issue of the Journal of Materials Chemistry A. Next, scientists hope to test their technology using industrial paper-making machinery.

*-- Scientists rejuvenate old human cells, make them look and act younger --*

Scientists have found a way to breath new life into old, inactive human cells.

As detailed in a new paper published in the journal BMC Cell Biology, the rejuvenation technique had cells dividing within a few hours of treatment. The resuscitated cells also boasted longer telomeres, the chromosome caps that shrink as cells age.

Researchers at the University of Exeter found that a group of genes called splicing factors get turned off one by one as cells grow older. Scientists, however, found different chemical concoctions can turn the splicing factors back on, causing cells to look and act younger.

To kickstart the rejuvenation process, researchers exposed cell cultures to reversatrol analogues, chemical derivatives of a substance that occur naturally in red wine, dark chocolate, red grapes and blueberries.

Aging is linked with a variety of cellular defects, and these degenerative effects increase the likelihood of many chronic diseases, including stroke, heart disease and cancer.

The latest discovery could pave the way for treatments that slow down the aging process and prevent such defects, diminishing the risk of aging-related diseases.

"This is a first step in trying to make people live normal lifespans, but with health for their entire life," Lorna Harries, a professor of molecular genetics at Exeter, said in a news release. "Our data suggests that using chemicals to switch back on the major class of genes that are switched off as we age might provide a means to restore function to old cells."

Scientists have previously slowed the cellular aging process in lab mice through chemical stimulating, genetic manipulation and caloric restriction, but researchers were surprised to achieve such definitive and rapid results among human cells.

"When I saw some of the cells in the culture dish rejuvenating I couldn't believe it. These old cells were looking like young cells. It was like magic," said Eva Latorre, research associate at Exeter. "I repeated the experiments several times and in each case the cells rejuvenated. I am very excited by the implications and potential for this research."

Splicing factors are genetic instructions for a variety of tasks. These factors inform cells how to function and react under a range of circumstances. But as cells age, these splicing factors begin to shut down, leaving cells less adaptable.

Every organ features so-called senescent cells, cells that are still alive but that don't function properly. With fewer or no splicing factors, these cells are less able to control their genetic expression, making the cells and organ more susceptible to disease.

"When you treat old cells with molecules that restore the levels of the splicing factors, the cells regain some features of youth," Harries said. "Far more research is needed now to establish the true potential for these sort of approaches to address the degenerative effects of aging."


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