Protein could put antibiotic-resistant bugs in handcuffs

Staph infections that become resistant to multiple antibiotics don't happen because the bacteria themselves adapt to the drugs, but because of a kind of genetic parasite they carry called a plasmid that helps its host survive the antibiotics.

Plasmids are rings of bare DNA containing a handful of genes that are essentially freeloaders, borrowing most of what they need to live from their bacterial host. The plasmids copy themselves and go along for the ride when the bacteria divide to copy themselves.

A team from Duke and the University of Sydney in Australia has solved the structure of a key protein that drives DNA copying in the plasmids that make staphylococcus bacteria antibiotic-resistant. Knowing how this protein works may now help researchers devise new ways to stop the plasmids from spreading antibiotic resistance in staph by preventing the plasmids from copying themselves.

"If plasmids can't replicate, they go away," said lead author Maria Schumacher, an associate professor of biochemistry in the Duke University School of Medicine. "This is a fantastic new target for antibiotics."

The work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An essential part of biology, plasmids are so minimalistic they're not even considered alive by themselves. But they're good at ferrying genes from one kind of bacteria to another in a process called horizontal gene transfer. They also excel at adapting to environmental conditions more quickly than their bacterial hosts. Plasmids are able to develop new defenses to an antibiotic and then share that new trick with other bacteria.

Through several years of laborious structural biology to figure out the specific shapes of the molecules involved, the research team has mapped out the structure and function of a protein called RepA, which is crucial to the plasmids' ability to copy its DNA and make a new plasmid.

RepA is a protein that sticks to the beginning of the plasmid's DNA sequence and starts the copying process. "This protein is essential to everything," Schumacher said. "If you don't have it, the plasmid will quickly cease to exist."

Plasmids also need a mechanism to prevent themselves from making too many copies, which would strangle their bacterial host. The researchers have found that RepA is crucial to that function as well.

RepA naturally sticks together in pairs. When a pair of RepA proteins bumps into another pair, as when the cell is starting to get crowded with plasmids, the two pairs of RepA preferentially stick to each other. They form a complex back-to-back, with both having their DNA-grabbing parts facing outward.

When RepA forms this four-part molecule, the plasmids are said to be 'handcuffed,' because two rings of DNA are captured with the locked-up and non-functional RepA complex in the middle.

Once it is handcuffed like this, the plasmid will no longer replicate. Schumacher said this mechanism is apparently how RepA prevents the plasmids from overpopulating the bacterial cell.

Schumacher says RepA is ubiquitous in the plasmid world and doesn't bear much resemblance to other proteins, or to human proteins, making it an attractive drug target. She is hopeful the molecule could be a new site to attack with antibiotics.

"This has been a fun project because we saw many things we didn't expect to see," Schumacher said.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke University . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Multi-component, schmulti-component [Pharyngula]

I’m having a light dinner while traveling off to a visit with Humanists of Minnesota, and I thought I’d deal with a little email. I got a request to address a fairly common creationist argument–here’s the relevant part of the claim.

As a member of the Greater Manchester Humanists I was recently involved in a discussion with the Ahmadi sect of Islam with regards to evolution. They had asked me to look at a couple of chapters in a book entitled ‘Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge and Truth by their prophet Mirza Tahir Ahmad. One of those chapters was called ‘The Blind Watchmaker who is also Deaf and Dumb’ – riffing badly on Dawkins’s book, of course. Suffice it to say, there was very little of any of that in the book, but during the discussion one of their number said he did not believe in neo-Darwinism because he could not see ‘how all the supporting and connecting mult-component systems could all have evolved as, for example, the eye, as it progressed through geological time.’

He quoted the hagfish and work done by Prof Trevor Lamb to show ‘just how complex those multi-component systems are’ – but when I looked up Lamb’s work it is quite obvious that he is a supporter of evolution, and that he in no way suggests that such complexity is divine in nature….!

Yep, he’s got us. If evolution were sequential, linear, and goal-directed, this would be a serious problem. If you’re used to imagining that the only way complexity can possibly emerge is by purposeful, serial action to build an end result, rather like putting together your furniture from Ikea or building a model airplane, then gosh, it all seems so impossible.

Unfortunately for the follower of Mirza Tahir Ahmad, none of that is true, and this is just a variant of the “it’s too complicated to evolve” argument, with more sciencey sounding words and references to misinterpreted fragments of the scientific literature.

Let’s consider the major misconceptions in the question.

  • Evolution isn’s sequential. It’s massively parallel. Massively. Humans have about 20,000 genes, and all of them are evolving at once, with trial runs in about 7 billion individuals. New variants are arising all the time, and then they’re tested to destruction in multiple combinations over time. Scrap your weird idea that the pieces of a complex system must be developed one at a time — they can’t, and all of them are being constantly tinkered with. It is the most badly designed scientific experiment or engineering program ever, with no controls and every variable getting randomly tweaked at random intervals. So don’t be surprised that multiple elements are getting juggled.

  • Evolution doesn’t care how it arrives at a solution — all that matters is the final effect on the organism. In the case of the eye, the viable end result is an organ with sufficient resolution and contrast, and various special purpose detectors for things like motion or looming. The organism doesn’t know or care how that comes about — it is born with a combination of attributes, and lives or dies by their success. It may have accomplished its end by, for instance, refining the lens, or fine-tuning the receptor, or building in secondary signal processing elements…or all of the above and more. The organism doesn’t care and doesn’t have any control. And in a massively parallel system, probably every level is being tinkered with, and the final solution is going to be multi-component. It would be weird if it wasn’t.

  • Evolution is not teleological. An organ like the eye is not being assembled to a set of specific, detailed instructions — it just has to work, or the organism is at a disadvantage to other organisms with better eyes. So a hodge-podge of solutions is accumulated, and the end result has all kinds of complexity. But you don’t get to argue after the fact that the details imply some specificity of purpose.

    For example, here’s a number: 343767. It’s kind of big, you might be tempted to argue that it’s a fancier or more complex number than, say, 300000 (you’d be wrong), or you might want to argue for the significance of individual digits, or find a pattern in it. Humans tend to do that. But the reality is that I just went to a random number service and asked for a 6 digit number. Similarly, eyes wandered through a random space constrained by functional requirements and ended up at a somewhat arbitrarily complex configuration — and different lineages followed different paths.

OK, that’s my off-the-cuff explanation scribbled up while I nibble on a fruit salad at a cafe in Minneapolis. The whole multi-component problem is a red herring contrived by inadequate minds that can’t see beyond their preconceptions.

How Jurassic Park’s Digital Dinosaurs Revolutionized Movies

As of this week, Jurassic Park is officially 21 years old. And more than two decades after it hit theaters in 1993, Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur flick is still talked about as a landmark of filmmaking because it revolutionized how movie-makers handled visual effects.

Originally the movie’s dinos were supposed to be done entirely with stop-motion animation from Stan Winston Studio and creature creator Phil Tippett’s studio. But after Spielberg asked folks at Industrial Light and Magic to add some computer-generated motion blur effects, ILM animator Steve “Spaz” Williams decided to try to create the dinosaurs digitally—even though the director wanted practical effects.

“I secretly started to build a set of T. Rex bones,” Williams says in the video above, part of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences’s “Academy Originals” series. “I had a walk [animation] and I knew I was not going to be allowed to show it. [Producers] Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall were coming up, and I knew they were coming up, on a Monday in November of 1991. They came walking in and I had it playing on a monitor, and the whole deal changed at that point.”

After seeing what ILM could do “it was immediately very clear that we were going to get realistic movement to these dinosaurs that was going to be far advanced from what we were doing with stop motion,” Kennedy notes. (Tippett would later comment to Spielberg, “I think I’m extinct”—a line the director worked into the film.)

Ultimately, Jurassic Park was made using a combination of practical effects and CGI, but what ILM did on the film changed the visual effects game in huge ways. Watch the video above to learn more about how they did it. Oh, and by the way, Jurassic World is set to hit theaters in June 2015.

Hands-On With Destiny, Bungie’s Wild New World



“So, what… is this game?” my wife asked. She has played about a million more hours of Halo than me, I should point out. And she knows what Destiny is. (It’s the upcoming game from Bungie, Halo‘s original creator, which is coming out for PlayStation 4, PS3, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on September 9.)

What we were trying to figure out, as I played an alpha-test version on PS4 over the weekend, was: what type of game is Destiny? How does one describe it? She watched me create a character, customizing the hair and eye color and such. Then the game dropped me immediately into a distinctly Haloesque scenario, although set in a rust-red desert the likes of which I’d never seen in Bungie’s previous series.

“So you create that whole character, and then it’s a first person shooter?” she asked. It was true. I couldn’t see my character that I’d spent so much time on. I started running towards what appeared to be my objective, taking out a few minor enemies. We saw friendlies run by with what seemed to be PlayStation gamer handles above their heads.

“Are those real people?”

“I… I think so?”

After the shooting was over, Destiny automatically teleported me back up to my spaceship, which was orbiting around Earth. I jumped to the Tower, the last city of humans, located on a satellite above the ruined planet I’d been exploring. On the Tower, things were in third-person, and I could see my character running around.

“So, it’s an MMO and a shooter,” she said.

“I… I guess?” Safe in the Tower, I experimented with the game’s controls. I remembered there were buttons that would make my character emote. I pressed one and she started dancing, all alone, to no music.

“It’s an MMO,” my wife said, in a tone that conveyed finality. “If your character can dance, it’s an MMO.”



After playing the alpha (which turned out to be more of a vertical slice, a cordoned-off, rather finely polished section of the game) for the weekend, I can say almost certainly that Destiny is probably a shooter combined with a massively multiplayer online game. These seemingly disparate genres are mashed together rather elegantly. You begin in your personal spaceship, hovering over the earth.

If you choose to jump to the Tower, that’s a safe space, and you play in third person and can see your character. Here you can do all your housekeeping: Buy new items, examine items you’ve found on the battlefield, upgrade your ship, et cetera.

If you choose to go to Earth, there are actually three different types (in the alpha, anyway) of experiences. You can choose a “Story” level: This will drop you down into one of Destiny‘s big open maps, but with a very specific purpose. A voice in your ear will advance the plot of the game and direct you to your objective, and there will be a carefully crafted challenging path for you to follow. Once the big fight at the end of it is over, the mission will end and you’ll be automatically jumped back to your ship.

I had chosen, of my three options, the “Warlock” class which promised me the ability to bend time and space to my will. Warlocks also carry giant, giant guns like everybody else. In lieu of actual grenades, I had a special area-of-effect attack that refilled over time. (In practice, it was a grenade.) Once I’d leveled up a little more I got a super attack. By pressing the left and right shoulder buttons together, I could launch an even bigger purple ball of stuff that, aimed properly, could instantly take out a whole squadron of grunts. (The camera pulls back dramatically into the third person to show me launching this.)

Only Teenage Wasteland

The “free-roaming” level option is where things diverge from the usual point-alpha-to-point-bravo shooter. Choose one of these options — like the Story levels, they have a suggested level that you be at before attempting any of them — and you’re dropped down into a certain part of Destiny‘s vast open world. From here you can go anywhere and do anything you like. This did not work out so well for me. I discovered a tunnel that snaked down from a nondescript building, leading down and down into the sewers where I found a high-level enemy that killed me immediately.

Another time, I followed a series of narrow rooms that led away from the rust-red desert, a series of dimly-lit, dilapidated interior corridors that eventually guided me into another open outdoor area, this one looking like a former highway piled with blown-out old cars. But there wasn’t anything to do in this new playground. The only missions that were available turned out to be all the way back through that hallway and in the area I was dropped initially. And I hadn’t found anything at all in my explorations, besides a single loot crate that was close to the entrance of that first tunnel I decided to poke around in.

So that’s how I learned that the Destiny alpha just wants me to do the damn missions.

Following the beacon to a mission reveals, always, a stick in the ground with a glowing green light on the top. Touching this starts the mission. The Destiny alpha’s missions fell into four general categories:

  1. Kill guys

  2. Kill guys then pick up the stuff they drop

  3. Go somewhere, then kill any guys who are there

  4. Kill guys (I may have already mentioned this one).

This can be a little disappointing when you finish off one mission, head to the next beacon and get literally the exact same mission. There are “special events” that occur randomly when you’re just bumming around or even when you’re mid-mission. In the alpha, these often took the form of a giant “walker” enemy, like a huge robot spider, getting dumped into the battlefield, and you have a set amount of time to kill it. In the case of these dudes, you could shoot at their legs — you’d know this was doing more than normal damage because the little hit point numbers that popped out were gold instead of yellow — until one of them broke off, and this would cause the bug to fall to the ground so you could attack its weak point for massive damage.

You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you probably couldn’t. But of course, there are in fact other people running around there to help you. Bungie says that the other players you see while you roam around Destiny‘s world do not represent the sum total of other players on your server. The people you’re playing with are actually matched to your level. So you’re always running around with players of roughly your own skill level, which means you can be put into scenarios like the walker drop where everyone is on even footing.

Speaking of having to deal with other people, it seems like certain parts of the game’s campaign will require you to team up with others. Once I was done with the “Story” and “Free Roaming” options, just one remained — a “Strike” mission, in which I had to go defeat some big bad, but had to team up with two other players to do it. (This also means, for PlayStation 4, that the PlayStation Plus online service is required, which is helpfully noted within the menu.) This was easier said than done, since there weren’t very many people playing the alpha. But eventually I found two other people and off we went.

The mission, in contrast to the relatively short “Story” one, was lengthy and multi-faceted. It again took place in a bracketed-off area of the Free Roaming portion that I’d seen before. We started off killing guys, but then we went into one of those aforementioned interior tunnels. We made our way down to a machine that we had to hack in order to clear our path. This turned out to be one of those “fight waves of enemies for several minutes while you wait for a progress bar to be filled” type missions. This was where we really encountered a challenge, as the game threw much tougher enemies at the three of us than it had in the solo parts.

Once we got through, and had been playing for quite a while, it still wasn’t over. We had to face another spider-robot. This one really started wailing on us and we’d die often. If you die, you either have to wait a very long time to respawn or have someone come over and revive you. If everyone dies (and we did!) you go back to a checkpoint, which in this case turned out to be right before the encounter with the walker.



We were so close. We had it down to a tiny sliver of life. A couple more bullets and — it stopped moving. Everything stopped moving. We’d lost connection to the Destiny servers and were unceremoniously dumped out to the menu. Ouch. I guess that’s as good a reminder as any that we’re just alpha testers.

There’s one more option, when you’re up there in outer space: the Crucible. This is not an interactive dramatic re-enactment of the Arthur Miller play that I so desperately wished it was, but the competitive multiplayer. You bring in the armor and weapons you’ve acquired in the main game, and you’re again matched up with players more on your level. Although there will be several different gameplay types in the final version of Destiny, for the alpha it’s just a six-versus-six control-points match in which you and your team attempt to reach and hold points on the map for longer than your opponents do.

This is not my thing. Remember that I did play a lot of Titanfall and found to my surprise that the tweaks that Respawn had made to the formula caused this very same type of match to hold my interest. But whereas the Titanfall beta took the control-points match and elevated it, the Destiny alpha takes the same base materials and doesn’t seem to do much new with it.

With Crucible not being my cup of tea and the Strike mission off the table, I had nothing else to do but jump back into Free Roaming and do missions. The world of the Destiny alpha feels like a graveyard, and not one of those wacky fun graveyards you hear about. Everything’s dead, and nobody’s hanging around to witness it. The fact that missions come not from eclectic side characters but from glow sticks, that exploring just finds more outdoorsy areas and uninhabited nondescript passageways, makes wandering and exploring less exciting than it could be. This could turn out not to matter when the Death Star is fully operational, but that was what was running through my head as I played.

It’s really quite a fun combination of genres, though. The loop — fight, gather, return to town, equip, repeat — makes sense. It’s fun to keep going. It’s rewarding to finish a firefight, because you’ve done more than just survive to see the next firefight. You can take breaks, you can explore… to an extent.

I racked up a few more missions, running and jumping across the remnants of a transport ship that had broken cleanly in half, melee attacking low-level enemies to clear the mission’s requirements (kill guys). I leveled up, and the game helpfully informed me that I had reached the level cap for the Destiny alpha. I had nothing more to do. No one was there to celebrate my accomplishment. I stood alone on a broken-down hunk of rusting metal.

I danced alone, to no music.

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: Spidermom, Spidermom, does whatever a spidermom can [Pharyngula]

The best evidence for Creation is the testimony of scientists. They have said all creatures just suddenly appear all at once everywhere fully formed with no change from the time they were created until they disappear from the face of the Earth. Gould states, “No one ventured to document or quantify-indeed, hardly anyone even bothered to mention or publish at all-the most common pattern in the fossil record: the stasis of most morpho-species throughout all their geological duration.”

“The facts of paleontology seem to support creation and the flood rather than evolution. For instance, all the major groups of invertebrates appear “suddenly” in the first fossil ferrous strata (Cambrian) of the earth with their distinct specializations indicating that they were all created almost at the same time.” — Professor Enoch, University of Madras. More testimony proving that science is a witness to Creation.



FACT 1: Empirical scientific evidence indicates that a large number of animals inhabited the Earth beginning years ago.

FACT 2: The scientists say they suddenly appeared in masse fully formed and never changed (stasis).

FACT 3: They have no explanation, no knowledge, or proof of how they came into existence.

FACT 4: Since that time they have been going extinct one or more species at a time without a single replacement.

FACT 5:Eventually we will ALL be extinct.


All of the animals:

1. Suddenly appeared

2. Exploded everywhere

3. Were fully formed

4. No transitions

5. No gradualism

6. No change (stasis)

7. No sign of an evolutionary trend by which they could have emerged from an earlier type

THE PROOF: “The abrupt appearance of higher taxa in the fossil record has been a perennial puzzle. Not only do characteristic and distinctive remains of phyla appear suddenly, without known ancestors, but several classes of phylum, orders of a class, and so on, commonly appear at approximately the same time, without known intermediates.” -*James W. Valentine and *Cathryn A. Campbell, “Genetic Regulation and the Fossil Record,” in American Scientist, Vol. 63, November-December, 1975, p. 673. This is backed by Gould, Patterson, Eldredge, etc. etc.


George R. R. Martin Joins Twitter, Uses Winky Face Emoticon

Photo: Nick Briggs/HBO

Photo: Nick Briggs/HBO

They said it would never happen. He said it would never happen. But George R. R. Martin is now on Twitter.

“I don’t tweet all that much, please check out my live journal [sic] page. ;),” Martin wrote in his inaugural posting yesterday, adding the hashtag “#myfirstTweet.”

Although the account is not yet verified, his publisher Del Rey Spectra has confirmed that the tweet did indeed come from the author of the novels that inspired the Game of Thrones HBO series.

The Twitter account may come as a surprise to fans of Martin’s long-running (and often hilarious) LiveJournal, which has served as his primary online home since 2005. In 2011, after hearing about fake George R. R. Martin accounts cropping up on Facebook and Twitter, the author took to his LJ to make his stance on social media clear:

I am not on Facebook. I am not on Twitter. I will not be on the next new thing to come along, the one that makes Facebook and Twitter as obsolete as GEnie and CompuServe and The Source, those halcyon communities of yore…I have neither the time, the energy, or the inclination to get on any of these social media myself. There’s WAY too much on my plate, and keeping up with the Not A Blog and my website are taxing enough.

So what’s changed? Why has Martin, like Ser Barristan Selmy before him—or if you’re feeling ungenerous, the Freys—decided to break his vow and pay homage to a new lord, especially when he still has book-writing deadlines to hit? More than likely, he simply wants to have the same kind of social media presence that virtually every other public figure has, and since fandom is his bread and butter it only makes sense that he be on as many forums as possible.

Yes, it’s been almost three years since the last A Song of Ice and Fire novel. Yes, he keeps taking on new projects that are not finishing the next A Song of Ice and Fire novel. Yes, it’s frustrating. But Martin says his tweets will likely be few and far between, and besides, there’s an odd sort of pleasure in imagining what an author who often has trouble limiting his book manuscripts to 1,500 pages does with only 140 characters.

Not to mention that it’ll finally put an end to to one of the more clever jokes about Martin:

Perennial corn crops? It could happen with new plant-breeding tool

Since the first plant genome sequence was obtained for the plant Arabidopsis in 2000, scientists have gene-sequenced everything from cannabis to castor bean.

University of Florida scientists were part of a research team that this week unveiled a new tool that will help all plant scientists label ("annotate" in researcher parlance) genes far more quickly and accurately and is expected to give a big boost to traditional and nontraditional plant breeders.

Christopher Henry, a computational biologist at the University of Chicago who had a leading role in creating the database, called PlantSEED, said it is an important step toward the engineering of improved crops, such as creating rice that grows more efficiently or is more drought resistant.

Or creating perennial corn.

"Imagine if you didn't have to plant seeds for crops -- if crops were just like your flowers and your maize just came up year after year," he said.

Andrew Hanson, a UF eminent scholar in horticultural sciences, said he believes PlantSEED -- the capstone of the team's three-year effort -- will prove even more of a boon to traditional breeders and should help them create better cultivars, faster.

"It's really the future. It'll be a new tool in the hands of the next generation of plant breeders, just as similar tools for bacteria are now widely used in microbial metabolic engineering," he said.

While scientists have been documenting and annotating genome sequences for plants at an amazing clip since breaking through with Arabidopsis, the work has not been without challenges.

In documenting genome sequences, scientists must sort through millions of bits of genetic code to identify what function each gene is responsible for (such as telling a plant how tall to grow or how to transport an amino acid throughout the plant). They base those identifications on evidence from previous studies.

That can be an imperfect process, Hanson said, because with 20,000 to 30,000 genes in a typical plant, scientists can't possibly conduct experiments to find out what each and every gene is responsible for. And they don't.

That is where the team's PlantSEED system comes in.

The open-access system, described in a paper published online by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, integrates data from plant scientists around the world into a common platform, which should result in better, more quickly-updated plant models for everyone using them.

PlantSEED will help plant scientists begin to make better use of genome information by helping them create consistently accurate models for all plant genomes contained in the database.

Hanson, a faculty member with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, likens the new tool to models aeronautical engineers use when testing new equipment. They don't build a brand new jet every time they want to test a new material, but instead, test it by plugging information into computer models.

Because of tools like PlantSEED, plant scientists will eventually be able to do the same, he said.

"You can't really make as much use of the genome information as we should be able to until you can do that kind of modeling for plants, as well," he said. "And that's pretty much what this project is about."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Florida . The original article was written by Mickie Anderson. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Bacteria help explain why stress, fear trigger heart attacks

Scientists believe they have an explanation for the axiom that stress, emotional shock, or overexertion may trigger heart attacks in vulnerable people. Hormones released during these events appear to cause bacterial biofilms on arterial walls to disperse, allowing plaque deposits to rupture into the bloodstream, according to research published in published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

"Our hypothesis fitted with the observation that heart attack and stroke often occur following an event where elevated levels of catecholamine hormones are released into the blood and tissues, such as occurs during sudden emotional shock or stress, sudden exertion or over-exertion" said David Davies of Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York, an author on the study.

Davies and his colleagues isolated and cultured different species of bacteria from diseased carotid arteries that had been removed from patients with atherosclerosis. Their results showed multiple bacterial species living as biofilms in the walls of every atherosclerotic (plaque-covered) carotid artery tested.

In normal conditions, biofilms are adherent microbial communities that are resistant to antibiotic treatment and clearance by the immune system. However, upon receiving a molecular signal, biofilms undergo dispersion, releasing enzymes to digest the scaffolding that maintains the bacteria within the biofilm. These enzymes have the potential to digest the nearby tissues that prevent the arterial plaque deposit from rupturing into the bloodstream.

According to Davies, this could provide a scientific explanation for the long-held belief that heart attacks can be triggered by a stress, a sudden shock, or overexertion.

To test this theory they added norepinephrine, at a level that would be found in the body following stress or exertion, to biofilms formed on the inner walls of silicone tubing.

"At least one species of bacteria -- Pseudomonas aeruginosa -- commonly associated with carotid arteries in our studies, was able to undergo a biofilm dispersion response when exposed to norepinephrine, a hormone responsible for the fight-or-flight response in humans," said Davies. Because the biofilms are closely bound to arterial plaques, the dispersal of a biofilm could cause the sudden release of the surrounding arterial plaque, triggering a heart attack.

To their knowledge, this is the first direct observation of biofilm bacteria within a carotid arterial plaque deposit, says Davies. This research suggests that bacteria should be considered to be part of the overall pathology of atherosclerosis and management of bacteria within an arterial plaque lesion may be as important as managing cholesterol.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Society for Microbiology . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Google Open Sources Its Secret Weapon in Cloud Computing

Illustration: Getty

Illustration: Getty

When Google engineers John Sirois, Travis Crawford, and Bill Farner left the internet giant and went to work for Twitter, they missed Borg.

Borg was the sweeping software system that managed the thousands of computer servers underpinning Google’s online empire. With Borg, Google engineers could instantly grab enormous amounts of computing power from across the company’s data centers and apply it to whatever they were building–whether it was Google Search or Gmail or Google Maps. As Sirois, Crawford, and Farner created new web services at Twitter, they longed for the convenience of this massive computing engine.

Unfortunately, Borg was one of those creations Google was loath to share with the outside world–a technological trade secret it saw as an important competitive advantage. In the end, urged by that trio of engineers, Twitter went so far as build its own version of the tool. But now, the next wave of internet companies has another way of expanding their operations to Google-like sizes. This morning, Google open sourced a software tool that works much like Borg, freely sharing this new creation with the world at large.

Unveiled by Google cloud computing guru Eric Brewer at a conference in San Francisco, the tool is called Kubernetes–after the ancient Greek word for shipmaster or pilot–and basically, it’s a way of more easily and more efficiently running online software across a vast array of machines. In today’s world, that’s a vital thing. As the modern internet serves more and more people, it’s not just Google that needs hundreds or even thousands of machines to run its web software.

‘It’s a way of stitching together a collection of machines into, basically, a big computer.’

Google is now sharing this technology with the rest of the world because its business has evolved. In addition to creating its own web applications, it now offers cloud computing services–services that let outside companies build and run software without setting up their own machines. Releasing Kubernetes as a way of encouraging people to use these cloud computing services, known as Google Compute Engine and Google App Engine.

But the new tool isn’t limited to the Google universe. It also lets you oversee machines running on competing cloud services–from Amazon, say, or Rackspace–as well as inside private data centers. Yes, today’s cloud services already give you quick access to large numbers of virtual machines, but with Kubernetes, Google aims to help companies pool processing power more effectively from a wide variety of places. “It’s a way of stitching together a collection of machines into, basically, a big computer,” says Craig Mcluckie, a product manager for Google’s cloud services.

The key, Brewer says, is that a tool like this can help make the most of your available computing power. In essence, if one machine isn’t using all its computing power, Kubernetes can send another task its way. This can be particularly important for companies running their software on cloud services, Brewer explains, because they typically use only a portion of the processing power they’re paying for. “We know, from aggregate statistics, that utilization for the typical cloud customer is kinda low,” he says.

With Borg and its successor, Omega, Google has done this sort of thing inside its own data centers for years, squeezing as much as possible out of its massive array of machines. “Kubenetes emulates a lot of the patterns we use inside Google with Omega,” Mcluckie says. But in an effort to democratize this technology, Google has also reshaped the concepts behind Borg and Omega to work in tandem with another open source technology called Docker. The increasingly popular Docker provides a way of packaging online software into a kind of digital shipping container you can deploy across many machines, and then Kubernetes offers a better way of juggling all those containers. As Brewer explains it, Kubernetes helps you squeeze multiple Docker containers onto the same machine so that you can get the most out of it.

This morning, Google also unveiled new tools that make it easier to merely run Docker containers on its cloud services, and other cloud companies–such as Amazon and Rackspace–have embraced Docker in similar fashion. Docker is one step towards a world where we can treat all cloud services like one giant computer, and a tool like Kubernetes is the next.

Kubernetes is similar to several other existing tools, including Mesos, the open source tool that Twitter now uses. The difference here is that Kubernetes comes from Google, the company that pioneered this breed of “orchestration” tool. “It’s part of an arms race. There are literally dozens of tools coming out,” says Solomon Hykes, the chief technology at Docker and the driving force behind the company’s software containers. “But Google joining that battle–with code that comes from their massive experience–helps show where this kind of thing will go.”

Nintendo’s New Games Sound Great, Just Don’t Expect Them Anytime Soon

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto plays 'Project Giant Robot', an upcoming Wii U game.

Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto plays ‘Project Giant Robot’, an upcoming Wii U game. Nintendo

LOS ANGELES — Nintendo has a lot of games to talk about this year at E3. An open-world Legend of Zelda. A new Star Fox. A make-your-own-Mario.

And you’ll probably enjoy playing them… eventually. Just not this Christmas, and maybe not for a while. Much of the coolest stuff that Nintendo showed during its E3 livestream Tuesday was slated for the year 2015, if indeed it even had a date. And Nintendo’s propensity for long delays leaves us unwilling to place any big bets on some of those games making those dates. (Really, when has a Zelda ever made it out without a huge delay?)

Nintendo seems to be placing the vast majority of its 2014 holiday hopes and dreams on Super Smash Bros., its all-star mascot fighting game for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. A handful of other games round out its year. With little to no third party support, it means Nintendo has to double down on its own bets.

As it did at last year’s E3 show, Nintendo made its announcements not at a live press conference but with a pre-recorded video that it debuted on Tuesday morning. The “digital event” kicked off with an animated sequence clearly done in the style of Robot Chicken, with a clay version of Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime taking a miniature stage.

Clay Reggie did not get a few sentences into his presentation before being heckled by an audience member, who was revealed to be a bearded, disheveled, jaded member of the gaming press. “What are you going to announce, Reggie? More Mario games? Where’s Mother 3?” (A sensible response, since Nintendo should really release that cult hit Japan-only RPG in America.)

“We’re not announcing a new Mario game today,” responded clay Reggie. This was a bold statement considering that Nintendo was minutes away from announcing a Yoshi game, a Toad game and a Mario game.

With Wii U sales slumping (but possibly picking up following the release last week of heavy hitter franchise Mario Kart), Nintendo needs to show some signs of life this holiday season. Besides Hyrule Warriors, the action-oriented spin-off of The Legend of Zelda that will be available on September 26, those signs of life will come from Super Smash Bros. or they will come from nowhere.

Here are the new things that Nintendo announced on Tuesday, as seen by WIRED at a preview event on Sunday:

Miyamoto plays Star Fox on Wii U.

Miyamoto plays Star Fox on Wii U. Nintendo

Miyamoto’s New Star Fox

Remember when Nintendo’s game design guru Shigeru Miyamoto said he was stepping back from his role as the leader of the Mario and Zelda teams to focus on smaller game projects? This was on full display at E3 this year, when he gathered an exclusive group of press to show off some experimental game concepts that were still early in development. All of these were meant to be games that could only be possible by using the Wii U GamePad controller’s touchscreen and your TV screen in concert.

“Project Robot” was a mini-game in which two lumbering giant robots fought each other. It’s meant to be intentionally clunky, like Miyamoto’s own Surgeon Simulator. You hold the right trigger to move forward, use the left and right analog sticks to swing your arms and move the GamePad around to orient your robot’s torso. It’s funny because of all the real-time unpredictable physics happening. Was it fun yet? Not as much.

The next demo was called “Project Guard.” You have 12 security cameras all stationed in a building around an object you’re guarding. You can put the cameras anywhere you like. Robots start swarming in from every entrance, and you have to constantly check the cameras on the TV screen to find them, then switch to that camera using the touch screen, then shoot them down. This was much more fun — again, it feels overwhelming because of the sheer complexity of it, but that’s the challenge.

But the big reveal was Star Fox, a new entry in the outer-space shooter series that began on the Super Nintendo. You control your ship as usual, but on the GamePad screen you can see the view out of the cockpit, and use the motion controls of the GamePad to sight down your reticle and pinpoint your aim at individual enemies.

It still feels a little rough, and it should. Miyamoto said that it was still very early in development, and in fact he ordinarily would not show a game at all that was so early. But his aim for this year’s E3, he said, was to show that Nintendo was in fact working on game ideas that use the GamePad. (One wonders why it took this long.)

In a group Q&A following the demo, Miyamoto said that because they want to finish Star Fox as quickly as possible, Nintendo is currently in discussions with outside developers to take on the project, which to this point has been prototyped entirely within Nintendo. (Again, a rare glimpse behind the curtain.)



Amiibo, Nintendo’s Skylanders

Get used to saying “Amiibo” (it’s pronounced like “amigo” with a B). That’s the brand name of Nintendo’s line of Skylanders-style interactive figurines, which it will roll out this holiday season. The first game they’ll work with is — you guessed it — Super Smash Bros. Buy a Mario figurine and place it on your GamePad controller, and you can play as Mario in Smash Bros..

Well, of course, you could also play as Mario without placing that figurine on the controller. But this Mario is different from the standard Mario that appears in the fighting game’s roster. He’s your Mario — you can level him up and make him stronger by playing more matches, then customize his move sets. This data is then saved to the figure, so you can bring your custom Mario to a friend’s house. These characters, says Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai, can become quite powerful relative to the game’s standard-issue fighters.

Amiibo figures, Nintendo says, will have similar functionality with other games. It’s going to retroactively patch Amiibo support into Mario Kart 8, it said. They’ll also work with newly-announced games like Mario Party 10 and…



Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

If you loved the puzzle levels in Super Mario 3D World in which you played as the hapless Captain Toad, get ready for what looks like a whole game composed of them. This is likely to require you to use the Wii U GamePad controller and its touch screen, to manipulate the levels by touch as Captain Toad ambles around them. This will be available this holiday season.


Nintendo closed its Direct with an extended presentation of this game. Atypically of Nintendo but very typically of the rest of the videogame industry, Splatoon is an online multiplayer shooter. Of course, this has a non-violent spin on it: Everybody’s shooting globs of paint. Also, everyone is an octopus. Or maybe a squid. Either way, once you cover the floor with globs of your color of paint, you can stealthily swim in the paint without being detected.

I played a demo of this game following our preview of the Nintendo Direct. The game mode we played, which will be available on the E3 show floor, challenged two teams of four players each to paint as much of the arena’s floor as possible with their color of paint. Whoever coated the most of the level in their technicolor squid goo at the end of five minutes were the winners.

Developed at Nintendo’s main studio in Kyoto by a team of younger designers, Splatoon is scheduled to be released in 2015.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

This was probably the closest thing to a big surprise Nintendo had in store. Kirby: Canvas Curse was memorable for being one of the first Nintendo games to truly show the appeal of touchscreen gameplay on the Nintendo DS. So a Wii U sequel fits perfectly. Instead of controlling Kirby directly, players draw lines on the screen that he rolls along. This, too, won’t be out until 2015.

Mario Maker

Leaked a few days ago by someone who took a furtive photograph of Nintendo’s booth in progress on the E3 show floor, Mario Maker is exactly what it sounds like: a Wii U game that lets you construct your own 2-D Super Mario Bros. levels. (It took this long?) You can build your level, then play it back using either classic 8-bit or high-definition New Super Mario styled graphics. Release date… sometime in 2015.

And… those were the only brand-new, not previously announced games that Nintendo showed off during its Digital Event. For the most part, Nintendo used its time at E3 to update players on games that it had already announced, some quite a while ago.

Xenoblade Chronicles sequel

Whether you call it “X” or “Monolith Soft’s New Game,” this upcoming RPG is a highly anticipated Wii U release for the Nintendo core fans. The new story trailer shown during the direct confirmed that the game is a direct follow-up to Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii, but gave little other concrete information besides the fact that it won’t be available in the U.S. until 2015.

Hyrule Warriors

Besides what we learned last week when the official Japanese website for this teamup between Tecmo Koei’s Team Ninja and Nintendo launched, the E3 videos for this action Legend of Zelda spin-off revealed that Princess Zelda herself and Midna from Twilight Princess will be playable characters. Hey, add in Impa and that means that so far, three out of the game’s four playable characters are women.



The Legend of Zelda Wii U

Here’s what you came to see. Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma showed off some representative footage of what the Wii U’s first original entry in the Legend of Zelda series will look like. As he has hinted before, this Zelda will be more of an open-world adventure. Instead of being constrained to entering and exiting small areas that are stitched together to give the impression of a large connected world, this edition of the game should really all take place on one big, open map.

It should feel like a modern-day version of the first game in the series, he said, in which players could explore anywhere they wanted at any time. “The puzzle solving begins the moment the player starts thinking about where they want to go, how they will get there and what they will do when they arrive,” he said in the video.

Nintendo says this game will be out in 2015. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Sure, it might happen, but has Nintendo ever announced a big Zelda game and then actually released it without a big, painful delay in the middle of the development cycle? And they’re trying new things with this one, too, which only increases the chances they’ll hit a snag somewhere. Although the video segment was certainly fun to watch, it’s clear that it’s a scripted, faked-up moment, not actual gameplay.

Yoshi’s Woolly World

Announced as Yarn Yoshi about a year and a half ago, this side-scrolling platform game starring Mario’s dinosaur friend has gone dark until now. The big announcement is that it’ll have a two-player simultaneous mode. Coming in 2015. More likely to show up than Zelda.

Bayonetta 2

Announced nearly two years ago, this Mature-rated action game by Platinum Games looks like it’s finally happening in October. As a bonus, it’ll now include the first Bayonetta too, with optional Princess Peach, Samus Aran and Link outfits for the main character.

Mother 3?

Look, I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but would Nintendo really reopen the old Mother 3 wound for no reason? Additionally, later in the video that same heckling journalist (who I really think is the most sympathetic character in the show) asks, “Where’s Star Fox?”

Well, it turns out Star Fox was right at the end of that video. So… where’s Mother 3?

So if you’ve been following along, that means Nintendo’s 2014 Wii U lineup is Smash Bros., Bayonetta 2, Hyrule Warriors and Captain Toad. Solid, not spectacular. We know creative stuff is on the way, but it’s going to be late. How late is too late for Wii U?

Launching: Bluetooth Jewelry That Helps Filter Your Phone Calls

Image: Courtesy of Ringly

Image: Courtesy of Ringly

We’ve all done it: You’re at a restaurant, enjoying a nice moment with a friend when all of a sudden you hear your phone buzz. You want to stop the conversation, reach for your phone and check the notification. You really really do. But that would be rude…right?

We’re in a constant battle with our technology; do we control it or does it control us? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Ringly, a new line of technology-enabled rings, wants to make sure we have a say in which notifications are put in front our faces.

The rings, which launch today, are connected to your phone via Bluetooth Low Energy. You can configure the ring and its accompanying app to notify you when certain things are happening on your phone (calls, texts, emails, push notifications from Tinder, etc) by blinking colorful lights and soft vibrations. For those of us bound to our phones, it’s supposed to be a way to free us from our technological shackles. But actually, Ringly was started for the exact opposite reason.

Anti-microbial coatings with a long-term effect for surfaces

Researchers at the INM -- Leibniz Institute for New Materials have now produced antimicrobial abrasion-resistant coatings with both silver and copper colloids with a long-term effect that kill germs reliably and at the same time prevent germs becoming established.

Hygienic conditions and sterile procedures are particularly important in hospitals, kitchens and sanitary facilities, air conditioning and ventilation systems, in food preparation and in the manufacture of packaging material. In these areas, bacteria and fungi compromise the health of both consumers and patients. Researchers at the INM -- Leibniz Institute for New Materials have now produced antimicrobial abrasion-resistant coatings with both silver and copper colloids with a long-term effect that kill germs reliably and at the same time prevent germs becoming established. The coatings are particularly suitable for the application on large and solid surfaces, on doorhandles and for textiles.

The INM from Saarbruecken will be one of the few German research institutions at the TechConnect World trade fair on 16 and 17 June in Washington DC, USA, where it will be presenting this and other results. Working in cooperation with the VDI Association of German Engineers, it will be showcasing its latest developments at Stand 301 in the German Area.

"The new development combines two properties which means the presence of germs and fungi on these surfaces is zero," explains Carsten Becker-Willinger, Head of the Nanomers Program Division. Silver or copper colloids which gradually release germicidal metal ions into the environment are incorporated in the coating. "The metal colloids are only a few nanometers in size, but their particular ratio of size to surface area produces a distinctive long-term effect. The "consumption" of metals to metal ions is then so low that the coating can be effective for several years," says the chemist. The long-term effect will also be increased by the high abrasion resistance.

At the same time, the surface of the coating is anti-adhesive, so neither dead nor fresh germs can adhere to the surface. As a result, the coating primarily counteracts the formation of an extensive biofilm.

The researchers were able to prove the double microbicidal and biofilm-inhibiting action using the standardised ASTM E2 180 test process. The new material can be applied to a variety of substrates such as plastic, ceramic or metal using conventional techniques such as spraying or dipping, and cures thermally or photochemically. Selective variation of the individual components allows the developers to react to the particular and different needs of potential users. As part of the EU-sponsored CuVito project, the developers are now looking at increasingly using copper colloids and copper ions as well as silver which they hope will open up other fields of application.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by INM - Leibniz-Institut für Neue Materialien gGmbH . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Coral, human cells linked in death

We humans climb trees, compose operas, and send rockets to the far corners of the universe. Corals, on the other hand, just kind of sway there at the bottom of the sea. It's hard to imagine a creature with seemingly less in common with humans, but a recent study by San Diego State University biologists has discovered that both species share a 500-million-year-old biomechanical pathway responsible for triggering cellular self-destruction. That might sound scary, but killing off defective cells is essential to keeping an organism healthy.

The finding will help biologists to advance their understanding of the early evolution of multicellular life, conservationists to better understand the plight of modern corals, and medical researchers to develop new drugs to fight diseases like cancer.

Steven Quistad, a graduate student working in the lab of SDSU virologist Forest Rohwer, made the discovery earlier this year somewhat by accident. Rohwer leads SDSU's Viral Information Institute, one of the university's Areas of Excellence. The cross-disciplinary institute explores interactions between viruses and the biosphere in order to improve human and environmental health.

Like Rohwer, Quistad has spent most of his research career so far studying viruses. While analyzing the proteins of the coral Acropora digitifera and matching them against human proteins, he found a peculiar similarity: Both had receptor proteins that receive signals from another protein called tumor necrosis factor, or TNF.

Orderly death

When TNF proteins attach themselves to a cell's TNF receptors, the cell launches into an orderly self-destruct mode. The protein strands inside the cell break down and the cellular components are cordoned off and carried away to be recycled. The process, known as apoptosis, plays a crucial role in cellular health, allowing defective cells to destroy themselves before they can cause damage to the organism.

When Quistad looked more closely at the coral's genome, he noticed that it had genes that coded for not just one TNF receptor, but 40 of them. TNF comes in many different "flavors," and each one matches with a particular receptor. The coral Quistad investigated had 14 different flavors of TNF and more TNF receptors than any other known organism on the planet. Humans, by comparison, have 25 TNF receptors.

So what would happen if you took the human version of a TNF protein and exposed it to a coral's TNF receptors? Quistad and his colleagues did just that and watched for the telltale signs of apoptosis. Under a microscope, they saw evidence that the coral cell was breaking down within 10 minutes of exposure to human TNF. A series of other cellular signals associated with apoptosis confirmed it: Human TNF sets into motion programmed cell death in corals.

Vice versa?

Next, Quistad and colleagues wondered if coral TNF proteins would trigger apoptosis in human cells. They coaxed E. coli bacteria to express the same TNF proteins produced by corals and exposed them to cultured human tissue. Sure enough, apoptosis occurred in the human cells. Quistad published these results today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that the pathway by which TNF triggers apoptosis is old. Extremely old.

"The fact that it goes both ways means that these domains haven't changed in half a billion years," Quistad said. "Corals are actually much more similar to humans than we ever realized."

That's interesting from an evolutionary biology perspective, Quistad said, because approximately 542 million years ago, organized life took off in a very big way. Known as the Cambrian Explosion, this period saw the emergence of the early ancestors of much of the life that exists today, including humans. No one really knows what set off the Cambrian Explosion, but it's possible the evolution of orderly, systematic cell death played a leading role.

"TNF-induced apoptosis could turn out to be one of the major sparks of the Cambrian Explosion," Quistad said.

Coral conservation

Unfortunately, after half a billion years of success, corals today aren't doing so well. The effects of climate change and ocean pollution are taking their toll on the atolls. A fatal stress response known as coral bleaching, whereby corals expel the bacteria that give them their vibrant colors, is decimating corals around the world. Previous studies have linked apoptosis to this process, and indeed, the corals to which Quistad exposed TNF eventually bleached out.

A better understanding of how TNF mediates apoptosis in coral might allow conservationists to identify more resilient species, and then reintroduce these hardier corals to places where coral loss is hurting the local ecosystem, Quistad said.

Preserving and learning from these corals is important for human health, too. Corals are wonderfully complex organisms, Quistad said, and we're only beginning to learn their secrets.

"Many people look at a coral and think it's just a slimy rock," he said. "They think, 'How can it be so complex at a molecular level when it looks so simple?'"

Quistad said that by studying corals' various flavors of TNF proteins and TNF receptors, researchers might uncover medical properties useful for killing specific kinds of renegade cells, such as cancer cells.

"We have a lot to learn from corals about our own immune system," he said.

Lingerie Startup Uses Big Data to Engineer the World’s Best Bra

Michelle Lam. Photo: Courtesy of True&Co

Michelle Lam. Photo: Courtesy of True&Co

When Victoria’s Secret wants to promote new products, it sends the “angels”–that stunning band of supermodels–strutting down a catwalk wearing glittery wings, stiletto heels, and not much else. And Calvin Klein takes much the same tack, putting up giant black and white billboards graced by oil-slick models lounging moodily in all manner of suggestive poses, abs a-blazing. In the lingerie industry, the old marketing trope is true: sex sells. But Michelle Lam hopes that data can sell too.

Lam is the founder and CEO of True&Co, a San Francisco-based e-commerce startup that helps women find the right bra for their bodies using data science. Each True&Co customer takes a two-minute quiz about her body before buying a bra. Then, much like Netflix does with TV and movies, True&Co shows each shopper bras from a variety of brands that are a good fit for her based on the quiz. Since the company launched in 2012, True&Co has collected some 7 million data points on their customers, from details about different breast shapes to what percentage of women experience strap slippage. Now, having successfully sold products from other designers, the company is officially launching its own line of lingerie that’s been specially infused with data. It’s a move that could have implications far beyond the world of bras and panties.

True&Co is part of a growing group of startups that’s using data to make physical products a better fit for their customers.

Data is the thing that allows many of the world’s biggest companies to do what they do. It powers Google search, Facebook ads, and Amazon recommendations. But while we’re accustomed to online services collecting information on us and using it to tailor their websites to our tastes, when it comes to physical goods, we take what we can get. Sure, retailers can do market research to predict trends, but at the end of a season, they’re invariably left with a clearance rack full of once promising products that turned out to be duds. True&Co is part of a growing group of startups that’s using data to make physical products a better fit for their customers. “With all this virtual stuff, it’s so easy to create a uniquely personal experience for every person,” says Lam, “but creating physical goods that also feel like they’re made for you is what’s incredibly fascinating to me.”

The problem Lam is trying to solve is the fact that most women are wearing the wrong bras. The straps slip, the bands pinch, and the cups, well, runneth over. That’s not, Lam says, because all bras are ill-fitting. It’s because all women are different. True&Co’s software has found some 6,000 different body types and counting in its customer pool. Finding the right bra could involve hours in a dressing room, if not trips to different stores, so most women settle not on a bra that fits well, but one that fits well enough. Lam, who was an investor at Bain Capital Ventures before launching True&Co, knew this process could be improved with technology.

Some of True&Co's new line. Image: Courtesy of True&Co

Some of True&Co’s new line. Image: Courtesy of True&Co

True&Co’s new line of lingerie, which includes bras, panties, and loungewear, is based on an entirely new fitting system for bras called TrueSpectrum. Unlike traditional bra sizes, which only account for the size of a woman’s rib cage and the distance between her breasts, TrueSpectrum sizes take into account whether her breasts are full or shallow, high or low, wide-set, or a combination of a few. The bras, themselves, have then been designed to address the most common complaints reported in the quiz. For instance, 62 percent of women complain about “busting out,” particularly in their underarms. So, True&Co designed a bra with a high-cut spandex band to prevent that from happening.

The company launched a pilot test of four different bras last fall, which soon became one of the company’s best selling products. Those bras now account for more than a quarter of True&Co’s sales and have helped grow revenue 600 percent in just a few months. Lam is hoping to replicate those results with this new line. “We don’t create anything that’s not going to sell because it’s not going to fit anyone,” says Lam. “We create less waste.”

Novel as True&Co’s approach may be, the company does have competition. One startup, ThirdLove, allows women to take their measurements at home with a body scanning technology app. And recently, even Victoria’s Secret began offering customers a quiz on its website. That other brands are catching on comes as no surprise to Lam. “I look at the old retailers out there, and I see an imperfect model,” she says. “I think this is the way women are going to shop for intimate apparel in the future, and not only that, but I really believe this is the way women will shop for all apparel in the future.”

This Startup Wants to Turn Your Old Electronics Into Solid Gold

Image: BlueOak

Image: BlueOak

Sometimes, numbers say it all.

About 50 million tons of electronic waste were generated worldwide in 2012, according to a United Nations report. The same report predicted that number would grow to 65.4 million tons of e-waste by 2017. To put that in context, that’s about 200 Empire State Buildings or, for the more worldly, 11 Great Pyramids of Giza.

While some of that waste—from old televisions to smartphones—is refurbished and recycled, a troubling amount of it is shipped to landfills around the world, where often it’s incinerated, leaching toxic chemicals into the environment. In Guiyu, China, a now infamous dumping ground for electronics, studies have found startlingly high levels of lead in children’s bloodstreams.

But Priv Bradoo believes she can change things with the promise of gold and silver

Sometimes, no amount of sick kids and loaded landfills can convince the world to change its dangerous behavior. But Priv Bradoo believes she can change things with the promise of gold and silver. Bradoo is the co-founder and CEO of BlueOak Resources, a Burlingame, California-based startup that wants to help the country mine precious metals from its stream of e-scraps. The hope is that we’ll soon see our e-waste as a source of revenue, instead of letting it tumble into landfills.

As it turns out, a lot of the world’s e-waste is stuffed with valuable metals like gold, silver, and copper. One ton of circuit boards has anywhere from 40 to 800 times the amount of gold in it than one ton of mined gold ore, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In other words, the mining industry spends a fortune extracting these metals from the ground. Corporations spend even more buying the materials and molding them into a highly concentrated form. Then, after all that, we dump them by the ton back into the ground like so many chewed up wads of gum.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Bradoo says. And that’s why she and her co-founder, Bryce Goodman, started BlueOak to focus on what they call “above the ground recovery” of high-value materials. Yes, there’s already a booming recycling and refurbishing industry worldwide, and in places like Europe, Asia, and Canada, there are already large-scale smelters who can extract these precious materials from e-scrap. But Bradoo says there’s a gap in the system. Many of these smelters only deal in mass quantities of scrap, she explains, meaning some smaller collectors can’t even send their scrap abroad. Those who can, Bradoo says, are effectively sending potential profits overseas. So, on Tuesday, BlueOak is breaking ground on the first urban e-waste mining refinery in the United States.

Turning Trash Into Treasure

Bradoo is not new to the waste recovery industry. Before launching BlueOak, she was vice president of business development for LanzaTech, a startup that turns toxic waste gasses from factories into high-value fuel. She was working as a faculty adviser at Singularity University, an educational organization for socially conscious tech entrepreneurs, when she met Goodman, who was a student at Singularity. They bonded over a shared interest in the concept of “upcycling,” or converting waste into value, and in 2011, they launched BlueOak.

Image: Bryce Goodman and Priv Bradoo

Image: Bryce Goodman and Priv Bradoo

By building a refinery in the United States, BlueOak is launching a new industry here, one that Bradoo hopes will encourage more American consumers and corporations to think twice about tossing their used electronics out with the trash. The first refinery in Osceola, Arkansas is set to be completed by next year and will start off processing 15 million lbs of scrap per year and grow from there. BlueOak will partner with collectors who gather used electronics primarily from corporations. Those collectors separate the plastics and other materials from the waste, and send BlueOak the parts that contain high value metals. The company charges these collectors an upfront processing fee. Then, after the precious metals are extracted and sold, it returns the majority of the profits to the collectors.

This model has attracted investor interest from the likes of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers, which participated in BlueOak’s seed round in 2011. More recently, the company raised another $35 million from the Arkansas Teachers’ Retirement Fund and the Arkansas Development Finance Authority to build the Osceola facility. “I liked the fact that it’s an acute problem, and it has exponential growth potential to it,” says Amol Deshpande, a partner at Kleiner Perkins. “All these devices and their obsolescence creates an issue around waste toxicity that needs to be addressed, and it can’t be addressed with landfills.”

‘A Wicked Problem’

Still, some experts argue that BlueOak, and indeed the rest of the e-waste industry, may be overstating their potential for impact. According to Josh Lepawsky, who has studied the e-waste problem as associate professor of geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland, the vast majority of waste in the world actually comes from manufacturing and production. Used materials, he estimates, make up about 3 percent of the waste in the world. Used electronics are just a fraction of that.

“It’s not that I don’t think what they’re doing might be positive,” he says of BlueOak’s work, “but it’s going to be directed at that roughly 3 percent of all waste and within that, an even smaller slice. And yes, that slice is growing very quickly, but it’s still a thin slice.” A better approach for BlueOak, he says, would be to collect the waste that’s coming out of the manufacturing process, itself. “Anything that moves material and energy recovery up the value chain prior to purchase is going to have a much more substantial impact,” he says.

It’s an intractable issue, and Bradoo admits that what BlueOak is doing is only part of the solution.

Still, Lepawsky argues that to truly solve what he calls a “wicked problem” like e-waste, there would need to be a massive reduction in the volume of gadgets and devices that are currently being produced. “We all know the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle,” he says. “It’s incredibly telling that almost all of our focus is spent on recycling and nothing on reduction.”

Bradoo, for one, agrees that the glut of new products in the market is the real culprit. Tech companies are under tremendous pressure from Wall Street to roll out the “next big thing” every few months, and as a result, the lifespan of the “last big thing” gets shorter by the day. It’s an intractable issue, and Bradoo admits that what BlueOak is doing is only part of the solution. “As long as you’ve got the companies developing these devices and consumer behavior that propagates the proliferation of devices, you’re going to see an exponential rise in electronic waste,” she says. “We need to be thinking about how we want technology to impact the world, not just in our utilitarian use, but at the end of life, too.”

Crappy Netflix Playback? Here’s How to Test Your Streaming Speed

Photo Illustration: WIRED

Photo Illustration: WIRED

Netflix goes out of its way to help you to figure out what’s wrong when you get crappy, pixelated video despite that super-fast connection you’re paying for. In addition to calling them out when it thinks they’re the problem, Netflix also provides a handy ISP speed index that lets you see which provider in your country offers the best Netflix experience.

There’s even a way to test your Netflix performance in real time, thanks to a little-known 11-minute short on Netflix titled Example Short 23.976 . Once launched, it will play back a series of unconnected clips—a gurgling fountain, a guy dressed in black moonwalking with a laptop, a time lapse of an evening sky, and a shot of the Netflix office in Los Gatos, among others.

Ignore the action and focus your attention on the top left of the screen, which will display the bit rate (the number of bits per second that can be transmitted along a digital network) and the resolution of the video in real time.

It should start out pretty low—my stream on the WIRED network, for instance, started out at a lowly 560 Kbps with a resolution of 512 x 384—but improve gradually as it buffers. Within a few seconds, my Netflix stream topped out at 3000 Kbps (3 Mbps) and a resolution of 1280 x 720. The higher these numbers, and the steadier they are, the better your Netflix performance is.

The highest speed in the U.S. is 3.03 Mbps, according to Netflix’s ISP Speed Index, so I guess we aren’t doing too badly.

What are your numbers? Post them in the comments below!

Batman’s Street-Legal Tumbler Drops Out of the Epic Intercontinental Gumball Rally

We’ve got some bad news. Batman’s Tumbler will not be racing in the European leg of the 2014 Gumball 3000, the rally in which rich enthusiasts and celebrities pilot expensive cars across multiple continents.

The Tumbler, billed by the rally as “probably the most insane car we’ve ever had on the Gumball,” is a street-legal replica of the vehicle from the Christopher Nolan / Christian Bale Batman trilogy. Under the comic book exterior is a 6.2-liter V8 producing 400 horsepower. Without it, you’ll have to settle for boring old Ferraris, Porsches, and Rolls-Royces.

Saudia Arabia’s Team Galag were set to drive the Tumbler along the 2014 route from Miami, through New York, London, Paris, and to the finish in Ibiza on June 11. The car, with a 6.2-liter V8 producing 400 horsepower, weighs in at 5,000 pounds. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s been beset by mechanical issues, and is dropping out of the rally.

Galag didn’t provide details, but they blame Florida-based Parker Brothers Concepts, which built the car, for this missed opportunity. On their Facebook page, Galag said, “Parker Brothers Concepts have been given a year to fix the issues that were faced last year but chose not to do any work until it was too late to make any difference. We have been misled many times and were told that progress was being made and chose to put our trust in their word…They are also refusing to hand over the license plates in order to be able to drive the Tumbler legally on the road.”

We’ve reached out to Parker Brothers for a comment and will update this post when we hear back. (It’s not the Monopoly-producing Parker Brothers, by the way, which is too bad. We’d love to see a giant thimble or top hat loaded with a V-12 roaring into Ibizia.)

British driver and designer (and husband of rapper Eve) Maximilian Cooper created the Gumball 3000 in 1999 as a long-distance road race for him and his celebrity friends. Cooper says he got the name from Andy Warhol’s description of the public chewing and spitting out popular culture like gum, although we can’t find evidence of the quote outside of Gumball press releases. Nor do we see what it has to do with awesome cars.

The annual rally, held this year from June 4 to June 11, is the event that sells the Gumball 300 “lifestyle brand” of “entertainment, apparel, music and licensing divisions.” The price tag for participation is £40,000 ($67,194) per vehicle, including two drivers. Each additional person in the car costs another £20,000 ($33,597). That price includes hotel rooms at each of the layover points along the race, plus glamorous post-drive parties stuffed with famous people.

“Racing,” the requirements emphasize, is not permitted, but friendly competition to see who gets to the next hotel first is typical. Participating cars are required to have the Gumball 3000 logo stickered across their paneling, NASCAR style, and drivers “shall endeavour to keep them clean and visible at all times.” For the vehicles, the only requirement is that they be insured and street-legal in the host countries.

We’re always in favor of a ridiculous street-legal one-off automobile, especially when it pulls from comic books. For now, the dark knight will put off rising until next year’s rally.