Researchers pinpoint site where search for life on Mars could begin

Researchers have found a patch of land in an ancient valley on Mars that they believe is of significant interest  in the search for signs of past life forms on the Red Planet.

The site discovered by researchers from Trinity College Dublin was flooded by water in the not-too-distant past, and the suggestion that water was once present at the site means that it may be of particular interest during future missions to the Mars.

“These findings are hugely significant,” said Dr Mary Bourke of Trinity College Dublin. “Firstly, the Martian sand dunes show evidence that water may have been active near Mars’ equator – potentially in the not-too-distant past. And secondly, this location is now a potential geological target for detecting past life forms on the Red Planet, which is important to those involved in selecting sites for future missions.”

The discovery on Mars was made possible by the team from Trinity College’s previous study of the Namib Desert.

In a remote sensing study of the Namib Desert, the researchers had previously noted the same patterns occuring between migrating sand dunes.

Fieldwork subsequently showed that these patterns – described by the searchers as “arcuate striations” – were a consequence of dune sediments being left behind once groundwater had evaporated. These dune sediments later were found to be relatively immobile, which means they are left behind as the dunes continue to migrate downwind.

“On Earth, desert dunefields are periodically flooded by water in areas of fluctuating groundwater, and where lakes, rivers and coasts are found in proximity. These periodic floods leave tell-tale patterns behind them,” said Bourke.

“You can imagine our excitement when we scanned satellite images of an area on Mars and saw this same patterned calling card, suggesting that water had been present in the relatively recent past.”

The finding on Mars come just weeks after NASA described current plans for a manned mission to Mars as “fragile”, and called for the establishment of a “Marz Czar” or a specialist mission office to adequate preparations were put in place for an unprecedented mission to the Red Planet.

The hypothesis proposed by Trinity College researchers may give fresh impetus to the search for life on Mars.

“Following our work in Namibia, we hypothesise that on Mars, similar arcuate striations [patterns] exposed on the surface between dunes are also indications of fluctuating levels of salty groundwater, during a time when dunes were actively migrating down the valley.”

The researchers’ full findings are available in Geophysical Research Letters.

New research claims a video game can improve doctors’ ability to recognise severe trauma in patients

New research has concluded a specifically-designed video game improves doctors’ ability to recognise when patients need to be transferred to a severe trauma centre.

The research, by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and published today in the BMJ, revealed the game Night Shift was better at preparing doctors to recognise patients who needed higher levels of care than reading traditional educational materials.

This was the case even though doctors who were made to play the game, in which doctors play as a fictitious, young emergency physician treating severe trauma patients, enjoyed it less than those who were asked to read relevant materials.

“Physicians must make decisions quickly and with incomplete information. Each year, 30,000 preventable deaths occur after injury, in part because patients with severe injuries who initially present to non-trauma centres are not promptly transferred to a hospital that can provide appropriate care,” said the game’s creator Deepika Mohan, MD, MPH and assistant professor in Pitt’s departments of Critical Care Medicine and Surgery.

“An hour of playing the video game recalibrated physicians’ brains to such a degree that, six months later, they were still out-performing their peers in recognising severe trauma.”

Night Shift was designed by Mohan to tap into the part of the brain that uses pattern recognition and previous experience to make snap decisions by using subconscious mental shortcuts – a process called heuristics.

Doctors in non-trauma centres typically see only about one severe trauma per 1,000 patients. As a result, their heuristic abilities can become skewed toward obvious injuries such as gunshot wounds, and miss equally severe traumas such as internal injuries from falls.

On average, 70% of severely injured patients who present to non-trauma centres are under-triaged and not transferred to trauma centres as recommended by clinical practice.

“There are many reasons beyond the doctor’s heuristics as to why a severe trauma patient wouldn’t be transferred to a trauma centre, ranging from not having an ambulance available to a lack of proper diagnostic tools,” said Mohan.

“So, it is important to emphasize that recalibrating heuristics won’t completely solve the under-triage problem and that the problem isn’t entirely due to physicians’ diagnostic skills. But it’s heartening to know we’re on track to develop a game that shows promise at improving on current educational training.”

For the study, Mohan recruited 368 physicians from across the US who did not work at hospitals specialising in severe trauma. Half were assigned to play the game and half were asked to spend at least an hour reading the educational materials.

Participants then responded to questionnaires and completed a simulation that tested how often they “under-triaged,” or failed to send severe trauma patients to hospitals with the resources necessary to handle them.

Physicians who played the game under-triaged 53% of the time, compared with 64% for those who read the educational materials.

Six months later, Mohan reassessed the physicians and found that the effect of the game persisted, with those who played the game under-triaging 57% of the time, compared to 74% for those who had read the educational materials.

Multimedia courtesy of Schell Games.

Researchers believe modified CRISPR could be used without editing DNA

Researchers from the US' Salk Institute have used CRISPR as a switch that turns genes on and off and allows harmful mutant genes to be disabled without affecting the structure of their DNA. Until this development gene editing using CRISPR carried the risk of causing unintended effects.

Source: Gizmodo

Nissan to trial robo-taxis in Japan next year

The carmaker Nissan is is partnering with Japanese software company DeNA to test self-driving taxis on Japanese roads from March next year. The free trials will be held over a two-week period in March in Yokohama, and Nissan believes the service could be officially launched in Japan in the early 2020s.

Source: BBC

Apparently, gaming can save your brain

Research participants who played 3D platforming games like the iconic Super Mario 64 had more gray matter in their hippocampus after playing, That part of the brain transforms short-term memories into long-term ones and maintains the spatial memory that helps us navigate the world around us.

Source: Inverse

San Francisco votes to restrict delivery robots

San Francisco officials have voted to restrict where delivery robots can go in the city, amid concerns about the safety of pedestrians, particularly elderly people and children. Start-ups will now have to get permits to use such bots, which will be restricted to less crowded urban areas.

Source: BBC

Steam stops accepting Bitcoin

When Valve first started accepting Bitcoin in April 2016 it was trading around $450 per coin. Today, with Bitcoin surging past $12,000 per coin, Valve has announced that "Steam will no longer support Bitcoin as a payment method on our platform due to high fees and volatility in the value of Bitcoin."

Source: Ars Technica

The maker of Budweiser beer reserves 40 Tesla electric trucks

Budweiser beer maker Anheuser-Busch has reserved 40 Tesla all-electric Semi trucks as it seeks to reduce fuel costs and vehicle emissions. The reservation is one of the largest publicly announced orders Tesla has received, while production of the trucks is scheduled to begin by 2019.

Source: Reuters