July 06, 2015

China's high speed rail construction accelerates again to boost slowing economy

An update on China's high speed rail and regular construction

2015 the total length of railways in service would reach 120,000 kilometers,
2015 total length of high speed rail in operation would be 18,000 kilometers.
At the end of 2014, total length of railways in service reached 112,000 kilometers
70,000 kilometers of rail was in the central and western areas at the end of 2014
16,000 kilometers of high speed rail was in operation at the end of 2014

In 2014, high-speed rail expansion gained speed with the opening of the Taiyuan–Xi'an, Hangzhou–Changsha, Lanzhou-Ürümqi, Guiyang-Guangzhou, Nanning-Guangzhou trunk lines and intercity lines around Wuhan, Chengdu, Qingdao and Zhengzhou. High-speed passenger rail service expanded to 28 provinces and regions. The number of high-speed train sets in operation grew from 1,277 pairs in June to 1,556.5 pairs in December.

Second boom with economic slowdown

In response to a slowing economy, central planners approved a slew of new lines including Shangqiu-Hefei-Hangzhou, Zhengzhou-Wanzhou, Lianyungang-Zhenjiang, Linyi-Qufu, Harbin-Mudanjiang, Yinchuan-Xi'an, Datong-Zhangjiakou, and intercity lines in Zhejiang and Jiangx

Russia's Armata spurring a revival in main battle tanks

Germany plans to update their Main Battle Tank (MBT), the Leopard 2, less than three weeks after the Russians debuted their new Armata tanks. The Germans will be conducting joint capability studies with France, set to run through 2018, before deciding on a design.

Germany will modernize and put back into service 100 mothballed Leopard 2 tanks.

During the Cold War, the former West Germany bought 2,125 new Leopard 2s. As part of post-Cold War defense cuts, most of the tanks were sold back to the original manufacturers. Four years ago, the German Defense Ministry decided to cut its total from 350 to 225.

Now, Flosdorff said a decision has been made to raise that number to 328. Of that total, 320 will be made ready for battle; the other eight will be used for demonstrations.

The US doesn't currently have a new MBT planned; the upgraded M1A3 model of the Abrams tank, originally slated to be combat-ready by 2017, has been pushed back, with research and development now set to start sometime in the 2020

Pigs, sheep and cows given double myostatin inhibition gene editing

Belgian Blue cattle are hulking animals that provide unusually large amounts of prized, lean cuts of beef, the result of decades of selective breeding. Now, a team of scientists from South Korea and China says that it has created the porcine equivalent using a much faster method.

Key to creating the double-muscled pigs is a mutation in the myostatin gene (MSTN). MSTN inhibits the growth of muscle cells, keeping muscle size in check. But in some cattle, dogs and humans, MSTN is disrupted and the muscle cells proliferate, creating an abnormal bulk of muscle fibres.

To introduce this mutation in pigs, Kim used a gene-editing technology called a TALEN, which consists of a DNA-cutting enzyme attached to a DNA-binding protein. The protein guides the cutting enzyme to a specific gene inside cells, in this case in MSTN, which it then cuts. The cell’s natural repair system stitches the DNA back together, but some base pairs are often deleted or added in the process, rendering the gene dysfunctional.

The team edited pig fetal cells. After selecting one edited cell in which TALEN had knocked out both copies of the MSTN gene, Kim’s collaborator Xi-jun Yin, an animal-cloning researcher at Yanbian University in Yanji, China, transferred it to an egg cell, and created 32 cloned piglets.

Kim and his team have not yet published their results. However, photographs of the pigs “show the typical phenotype” of double-muscled animals, says Heiner Niemann, a pioneer in the use of gene-editing tools in pigs who is at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute in Neustadt, Germany. In particular, he notes, they have the pronounced rear muscles that are typical of such animals.

Rather than trying to create meat from such pigs, Kim and Yin plan to use them to supply sperm that would be sold to farmers for breeding with normal pigs. The resulting offspring, with one disrupted MSTN gene and one normal one, would be healthier, albeit less muscly, they say; the team is now doing the same experiment with another, newer gene-editing technology called CRISPR/Cas9. Last September, researchers reported using a different method of gene editing to develop new breeds of double-muscled cows and double-muscled sheep.

Kim hopes to market the edited pig sperm to farmers in China, where demand for pork is on the rise. The regulatory climate there may favor his plan. China is investing heavily in gene editing and historically has a lax regulatory system, says Ishii. Regulators will be cautious, he says, but some might exempt genetic engineering that does not involve gene transfer from strict regulations. “I think China will go first,” says Kim.

July 05, 2015

China uses infrastructure projects, trade and military arm sales to make geopolitical and economic gains

The Royal Thai Navy has chosen Chinese-made models for its 36-billion-baht (US$1.1 billion)submarine project. Thailand will also get three submarines, plus an eight-year weaponry and parts support package.

Since last year’s coup in Thailand, Bangkok has been working on expanding its ties with China and this submarine purchase is a good step in that direction.

The submarines to be acquired are commonly referred to as the Type 041 though their actual designation in China is Type 039B; their NATO designation is Yuan. Yuan class submarines have been in commission in China’s People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) since 2006 and so far 12 have been launched with more on the way. Pakistan is currently in talks to procure eight in the coming years.

The Type 039B features advanced weaponry and an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system which allows the submarine to stay underwater for longer periods of time than a traditional diesel-electric submarine. This technology is based on Stirling engines imported from Sweden in the 1980s. This is the first time that Chinese built submarines have been chosen by a country in an open competition. Chinese submarines have been exported before to Bangladesh and Pakistan but in those cases they were direct orders.

The Chinese submarines were picked over competing German, Norwegian, South Korean, Swedish and Russian Submarines.

China has decided to build a medium-speed rail alternative to support cargo transport instead of high speed rail for its China to Thailand rail system.

The project is part of China's "One Belt, One Road" Silk Road initiative aiming to develop trade and transport infrastructure across Asia and Europe

Study suggests very tiny increased risk to leukemia from radiation but evidence not conclusive or convincing

A study of more than 300,000 nuclear-industry workers in France, the United States and the United Kingdom, all of whom wore dosimeter badges, has provided exactly these data. A consortium of researchers coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, examined causes of death in the workers (one-fifth of whom had died by the time of the study) and correlated this with exposure records, some of which went back 60 years.

There was an expectation that 134 of the workers (4.3 per 10,000 people) would die from leukaemia as a result of the average 27 years they spent in the industry; in fact, 531 people died from the disease. Even in this large study, there was no direct evidence that workers who had accumulated extremely low doses of radiation (below a total of 50 mSv) had an increased risk of leukaemia, says Olsen. But a mathematical extrapolation of the data suggests that each accumulation of 10 mSv of exposure raises a worker’s risk of leukaemia by 0.002%.

There is higher levels of background radiation beyond this nuclear worker study in many countries and regions and there has not been conclusive evidence of higher leukemia in those populations. There is also higher radiation exposure for all aviation pilots and stewardesses and there has not been a study showing increased leukemia deaths. The increased radiation exposure for those flying would correlate to their flight times.

The risks to energy workers is far higher for coal, oil and gas. Also, roofing is the 6th most dangerous profession.

The direct worker risks are higher for those other energy workers and does not include increased air pollution related diseases.

In context there is improving treatments being developed against leukemia such as gene therapy.

The annual fatality rate for oil and gas workers was 30.5 per 100,000 workers (404 fatalities) during 2003--2006, approximately seven times the rate for all workers (4.0 per 100,000 workers). Nearly half of all fatal injuries among these workers were attributed to highway motor-vehicle crashes and workers being struck by machinery or equipment.

So over 27 years then the oil and gas fatalities would be 715 more than the average workers for every 100,000 workers. Matching the 300,000 nuclear workers would be 2145 extra deaths for being an oil and gas worker from direct work related fatalities. This does not increase increased health risks from higher pollution exposure.

Coal mining deaths had been averaging about 10,000-20,000 per year up to about 2005. China had half or more of the coal mining deaths. China has improved its coal mining deaths to below 1000 per year. This does not count the deaths related to transportation of coal. Globally there is 8 billion tons of coal being produced each year. Moving this coal makes up 40% of rail transportation and a significant portion of truck transportation and of shipping. There is

Gene therapy treatment successful in stabilizing cystic fibrosis and could be a path for gene therapy to treat flu and arthritis

One year of gene therapy treatment for cystic fibrosis resulted in 3.7% improvement and stabilization of the disease compared to a placebo group. Cystic fibrosis affects about 70,000 people worldwide. Mutations in a single gene – CFTR – cause problems around the body, but particularly in the lungs. People with cystic fibrosis produce thick, sticky mucus, which clogs up the organ and makes it a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

The Lancet Respiratory Medicine had the published study. Repeated nebulisation of non-viral CFTR gene therapy in patients with cystic fibrosis: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 2b trial

Over the course of the year, the lung function of people in the treatment group seemed to stabilise, while the control group showed a steady decline in lung power.

The lungs of people with cystic fibrosis typically get worse at a rate of about 2 to 3 per cent a year, and Rayner says that a small change to this rate of decline could mean the difference between needing a lung transplant at the age of 60 instead of 40. "That is a big deal – it could mean a very different kind of life for them and those around them," he says.

Now we've worked out how to get genes into the lungs, similar techniques could be used to tackle other genetic lung diseases, says Gill, or even to start using the lungs to produce therapeutic proteins for other health problems.

"One application would be to express antibodies in the lung against respiratory viruses such as flu, or we could secrete anti-inflammatory proteins from the lung into the blood to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis," Gill says.

She says her team has some preliminary data showing that techniques like this could work, potentially allowing us to take advantage of the lungs' position at the centre of our circulatory system for their delivery. "We are just beginning to think about how to take these ideas forward," says Gill.

Cystic fibrosis lungs on the left and healthy lungs on the right

July 04, 2015

Anti-white blood cell drug causes remission of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and explains of the mystery disease

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) first entered the medical lexicon in 1988 to describe a cluster of symptoms without an obvious cause that doctors were seeing in the Lake Tahoe area of Nevada. The principal symptom was debilitating tiredness, but people also complained of sore throats, headaches, muscle pain and various other manifestations of general malaise.

The lack of a clear biological cause, the fuzziness of the symptoms and the fact that many of the people diagnosed were young professionals opened the door to a smear campaign. The media were quick to dub CFS "yuppie flu".

Now an anti-white blood cell drug treats two of three people with CFS and shows the cause antibodies after an infection disrupted blood flow.

Researchers in Norway have been trialling a drug normally used to knock out white blood cells in people with lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis. Two thirds of the people who took it experienced major remission of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) symptoms, essentially returning to normal life, with bursts of vitality unthinkable while they were ill.

The discovery – which sprang from a serendipitous observation – offers more than just the promise of a much-needed treatment. It also suggests that the symptoms are somehow caused by antibodies originally produced to fight off an infection. The researchers speculate that they might disrupt blood flow, leaving muscles drained of energy.

If correct, this brings the scientific story full circle. CFS was initially suspected to be a "post-viral" syndrome – the lingering after-effects of an infection with Epstein-Barr. More importantly, it could offer people diagnosed with CFS both physical relief and psychological closure.

There are wider implications too. Pain and fatigue without an obvious cause account for a large percentage of visits to the doctor, and usually have an unsatisfactory outcome. On top of that, there are many other conditions – Morgellons, for example – that struggle for credibility. If the CFS mystery is finally solved, that offers hope to countless others struggling with unexplained symptoms. It may take another serendipitous discovery, but science is good at those.

Russia rebuilding and repairing its navy

11 ships will be handed over to the Russian Navy after repairs and one vessel will be the fourth Varshavyanka class submarine that should be handed over to the military by the end of the year.

Russia’s shipbuilding industry is not in good shape, as the delays in refitting the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier as the Indian Vikramaditya showed. The United Shipbuilding Corporation has had integration problems and some shipyards have not been modernised since the Soviet period. Additionally, certain elements of the rearmament programme could be delayed as a result of the ending of defence cooperation with Ukraine.

While the industry is not likely to meet the targets set by the current armament programme, it will probably be able to produce 50-70% of the weapons and equipment required by 2020.

Russia intends to restore its navy’s global reach, but given the time needed to renovate shipyards, develop new designs, and build large ships, the effort will not be fully launched until the 2020s. The earliest that Russia could built a new aircraft carrier is 2027, while new destroyers are still on drawing board, with the first unlikely to be commissioned for ten years.

Russia can realistically expect to get modernized and repaired frigates and some destroyers and cruisers. They should also have a handful of new ballastic missile submarines and some multi-purpose diesel submarines.

New 65,000 ton british aircraft carrier powers up for the first time and should begin operational testing in 2016

HMS Queen Elizabeth's huge diesel generators have been powered up for the first time at the home of the UK's aircraft carrier programme in Rosyth.

The move brings the 65,000-tonne future flagship of the Royal Navy closer to becoming an operational warship.

The first of the ship's four generators was officially started by defence procurement minister Philip Dunne.

The warship is due to be handed over to the Ministry of Defence in 2016 ahead of being put into service in 2020.

Work is already under way on a second aircraft carrier, HMS Prince Of Wales.

Tesla Gigafactory on track to begin battery production by the end of 2015 and the Tesla 3 low price coming from batteries and more robotic production

Tesla Motors is on track for initial lithium-ion battery production at the Gigafactory by the end of 2015 and significant production for existing Tesla models in 2016. Of course, Tesla intends to get production up to 500,000 battery packs a year by 2020, but it is going to complete the Gigafactory and ramp up production in phases.

Pacific Crest Securities analyst Brad Erickson toured Tesla’s Fremont factory, and he estimated that the Tesla Model X production line has 3–4 times more robots than the Model S production line.

Tesla is relying on the economies of scale of the huge factory to allow it to sell the Model 3 at a base price of $35,000 before incentives.

Gigafactory picture from Feb, 2015

GM is stepping up the challenge from Tesla and is reported to be getting to 200 mile range for its next Chevy Bolt electric car.

New IPhone 6S starting mass production in July with touch screen

Apple will likely begin mass production of its next iPhone (iPhone 6S and 6S Plus) in July according to a report from Bloomberg. The future iPhone will come with a touch technology called Force Touch.

Force Touch -- which senses how hard the screen is tapped -- was first used in the Apple Watch and 12-inch Retina MacBook. For example, with the Watch, pressing firmly on the screen lets you select new watch faces, control a workout, or search an address in Maps. Apple claims Force Touch “is the most significant new sensing capability since Multi‑Touch” – the tap, scroll, pinch, and swipe gestures found on MacBooks.

The usual upgrades are also expected
* more memory
* faster performance
* stronger processor
* better camera

The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are expected to have the same form factor as the 6 and 6 plus

NASA creates a color protrait of Pluto's northern hemisphere

New Horizons scientists combined the latest black and white map of Pluto’s surface features (left) with a map of the planet’s colors (right) to produce a detailed color portrait of the planet’s northern hemisphere (center). (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

What color is Pluto? The answer, revealed in the first maps made from New Horizons data, turns out to be shades of reddish brown. Although this is reminiscent of Mars, the cause is almost certainly very different. On Mars the coloring agent is iron oxide, commonly known as rust. On the dwarf planet Pluto, the reddish color is likely caused by hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto’s atmosphere and on its surface.

“Pluto’s reddish color has been known for decades, but New Horizons is now allowing us to correlate the color of different places on the surface with their geology and soon, with their compositions,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “This will make it possible to build sophisticated computer models to understand how Pluto has evolved to its current appearance."

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