Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2015/05/whole-brain-staining-chemogenic-neural.html
Whole brain staining, Chemogenic neural switching, Neuronal secrets, Single electron radio, Remote immersive telepresence, Aural parsing machines, Novel materials scaleup, Self-guided bullets, Logistical automation robots, New visual prosthesis.
1. Whole-Brain Staining for Whole-Brain Mapping
A complex new brain-staining method called BROPA is the first of its kind able to stain an entire brain including all neurons and synaptic connections http://www.mpg.de/9161585/connectome-diagram-brain. This now raises the distinct possibility of using the now-standard block-face scanning electron microscope technique to image an entire brain, slice by slice, and stitch these images together into a complete brain connectome map. Until now brain-staining techniques have only been useful for small sections of brain tissue, which could be scanned to produce connectomes but piecing these together into whole-brain maps was infeasible. So far the technique has only been demonstrated for mouse brains and the group plan to produce a complete mouse connectome comprising 40 petabytes, but it is yet to be seen if the technique can scale to human level.
2. Chemogenic Switching of Neurons
A newly developed chemogenic technique allows neurons to be controllably switched on and off http://news.unchealthcare.org/news/2015/april/new-brain-initiative-technology-can-switch-behavior-2018on2019-and-2018off2019. The chemogenic technique essentially represents an improved DREADD technology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Receptor_activated_solely_by_a_synthetic_ligand) in which neural cell-wall receptors were modified and engineered to be sensitive to specific synthetic molecules or drugs. Subsequently, these receptors - and the firing of the neurons they adorn - could be activated or deactivated by adding or removing the synthetic molecule from the animal’s system, and in this case two different receptors were introduced to mature mice via viral-administered gene therapies. In different tests both voracious feeding and drug addiction behaviour could be switched on and off at will.
3. A Duo of Fundamental Neuron Function Discoveries
The first of these sheds new light on exactly how neurons form connections and memories at the molecular and cellular level http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2015/04/new-insight-into-how-brain-makes-memories/; a specific signalling protein called Asef2 that actively promotes synapse formation by promoting outgrowths of actin from the neual cytoskeleton - its lack can lead to a range of disorders. The second shows that neurons make methylation alterations to their DNA on a regular and on-going basis http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/neurons_constantly_rewrite_their_dna; this is believed to be important for maintaining consistent synaptic signalling activity by modulating the activity of key signalling proteins.
4. Detecting Radio Waves from a Single Electron
For the first time radio waves have been detected from a single spinning electron http://news.sciencemag.org/physics/2015/04/physicists-detect-radio-waves-single-electron via new ultra-sensitive experimental techniques that involve trapping single electrons ejected by radioactive samples in cusomised wave-guides. As cool as this is the group ultimately hope to use the technique to perform the most accurate measurements to date for determining the mass of a neutrino. I wonder about the reverse: using a similar setup to influence and control a single electron . . . or a neutrino.
5. Towards True Immersive Telepresence
An Oculus-linked robotic system is edging towards the first true immersive remote telepresence system in which a user can wear a VR headset and receive binocular video input from a distant, remote robotic system that mimics the movement of the users body and head http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/upenn-dora-platform. The key to maintaining the feeling of immersion and presence in the remote location is minimal and unnoticeable lag between you moving your head, the robot moving its “head” in exactly the same way, and an updated video feed from the cameras arriving on the headset. 20ms lag is not perceptible and 60ms is considered an upper limit; the group currently have 70ms but hopes to drop this in the near future.
6. Deep Learning and Aural Parsing
Software arising from deep neural networks has now been demonstrated able to separate human voices from background noise in a wide range of songs (often referred to as the cocktail party problem after the ease with which humans can do the same) http://www.technologyreview.com/view/537101/deep-learning-machine-solves-the-cocktail-party-problem/. The promise here isn’t just a next-gen karaoke machine able to remove the vocals from any and all songs of choice. This should also help make better hearing aids, bluetooth headsets, video transcripts, and other applications we haven’t thought of yet.
7. Scaling-Up Novel Materials: Semiconductors & Metallic Glass
A couple of interesting scale-up advances this week. First, a new fabrication technique called metal organic chemical vapour deposition can successfully produce wafer-scale atomically-thin (3 atoms) films of molybdenum disulfide or tungsten diselenide for high-performance semiconductor applications http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/materials/novel-process-promises-atomically-thin-semiconductors-for-electronics. Second, a new manufacturing process allows spinel (magnesium aluminate) to be produced in sheets up to 30 inches wide http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2015/transparent-armor-from-nrl-spinel-could-also-ruggedize-your-smart-phone; spinel is a transparent mineral that is much tougher, stronger, and harder than glass - think display screens, camera lenses, building and car windows, etc.
8. The Latest Self-Guided Bullets from DARPA
DARPA’s new EXACTO bullet is a self-guided 0.50 caliber round that can adjust its trajectory mid-flight http://gizmodo.com/watch-darpas-scary-self-guided-bullets-swerve-to-hit-mo-1700601163. In the demonstration video you can see the bullet not only move to allow a trained sniper to hit a moving target, and not only move to allow a novice shooter to hit a moving target but, indeed to move and swerve mid flight to hit a target that starts moving after the bullet has been fired. I’m just imagining swarms of military drones that shoot and never miss.
9. Another Industrial Automation Entrant
This week Fetch Robotics announced a duo of new robots called Fetch and Freight to tackle the logistics market http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/fetch-robotics-introduces-fetch-and-freight-your-warehouse-is-now-automated. The duo are intended to form a team in a warehouse, with the slower Fetch and its mobile manipulator shelf-picking arm confined to zones, and Freight a faster smaller unit zipping around between Fetches and a loading point. It’s good to see competition heating up in this space with the likes of Kiva and to a lesser extent ReThink for example. I also can’t resist a call-out to Stanford’s microtug robots able to 2,000 times their weight via novel controllable adhesive technology http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/04/tiny-bots-can-drag-2000-times-their.html.
10. A Vision Implant Powered by Light
A company called Pixium Vision is launching a new visual prosthetic that is powered by light and enables the blind to see http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/bionics/blind-patients-will-soon-try-a-new-bionic-eye. The core of the system is based on a small chip that is implanted behind the retina and which includes pixels that have both a photodiode and retina-stimulating electrode; the person wears video glasses that capture the view in front of them and convert this into an infrared version that is beamed into the persons eyes which serves to both provide power and stimulate the retina. Tests in rats confirm restoration of 20/250 vision and they hope to soon achieve 10/120, below the limit of legal blindness.