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ScienceDaily

Research creates hydrogen-producing living droplets, paving way for alternative future energy source

Scientists have built tiny droplet-based microbial factories that produce hydrogen, instead of oxygen, when exposed to daylight in air.

The findings of the international research team based at the University of Bristol and Harbin Institute of Technology in China, are published today in Nature Communications.

Normally, algal cells fix carbon dioxide and produce oxygen by photosynthesis. The study used sugary droplets packed with living algal cells to generate hydrogen, rather than oxygen, by photosynthesis.

Hydrogen is potentially a climate-neutral fuel, offering many possible uses as a future energy source. A major drawback is that making hydrogen involves using a lot of energy, so green alternatives are being sought and this discovery could provide an important step forward.

The team, comprising Professor Stephen Mann and Dr Mei Li from Bristol’s School of Chemistry together with Professor Xin Huang and colleagues at Harbin Institute of Technology in China, trapped ten thousand or so algal cells in each droplet, which were then crammed together by osmotic compression. By burying the cells deep inside the droplets, oxygen levels fell to a level that switched on special enzymes called hydrogenases that hijacked the normal photosynthetic pathway to produce hydrogen. In this way, around a quarter of a million microbial factories, typically only one-tenth of a millimetre in size, could be prepared in one millilitre of water.

To increase the level of hydrogen evolution, the team coated the living micro-reactors with a thin shell of bacteria, which were able to scavenge for oxygen and therefore increase the number of algal cells geared up for hydrogenase activity.

Although still at an early stage, the work provides a step towards photobiological green energy development under natural aerobic conditions.

Professor Stephen Mann, Co-Director of the Max Planck Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology at Bristol, said: “Using simple droplets as vectors for controlling algal cell organization and photosynthesis in synthetic micro-spaces offers a potentially environmentally benign approach to hydrogen production that we hope to develop in future work.”

Professor Xin Huang at Harbin Institute of Technology added: “Our methodology is facile and should be capable of scale-up without impairing the viability of the living cells. It also seems flexible; for example, we recently captured large numbers of yeast cells in the droplets and used the microbial reactors for ethanol production.”

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Materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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ScienceDaily

When consumers trust AI recommendations, or resist them

Researchers from Boston University and University of Virginia published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing that examines how consumers respond to AI recommenders when focused on the functional and practical aspects of a product (its utilitarian value) versus the experiential and sensory aspects of a product (its hedonic value).

The study, forthcoming in the the Journal of Marketing, is titled “Artificial Intelligence in Utilitarian vs. Hedonic Contexts: The ‘Word-of-Machine’ Effect” and is authored by Chiara Longoni and Luca Cian.

More and more companies are leveraging technological advances in AI, machine learning, and natural language processing to provide recommendations to consumers. As these companies evaluate AI-based assistance, one critical question must be asked: When do consumers trust the “word of machine,” and when do they resist it?

A new Journal of Marketing study explores reasons behind the preference of recommendation source (AI vs. human). The key factor in deciding how to incorporate AI recommenders is whether consumers are focused on the functional and practical aspects of a product (its utilitarian value) or on the experiential and sensory aspects of a product (its hedonic value).

Relying on data from over 3,000 study participants, the research team provides evidence supporting a word-of-machine effect, defined as the phenomenon by which the trade-offs between utilitarian and hedonic aspects of a product determine the preference for, or resistance to, AI recommenders. The word-of-machine effect stems from a widespread belief that AI systems are more competent than humans at dispensing advice when functional and practical qualities (utilitarian) are desired and less competent when the desired qualities are experiential and sensory-based (hedonic). Consequently, the importance or salience of utilitarian attributes determine preference for AI recommenders over human ones, while the importance or salience of hedonic attributes determine resistance to AI recommenders over human ones.

The researchers tested the word-of-machine effect using experiments designed to assess people’s tendency to choose products based on consumption experiences and recommendation source. Longoni explains that “We found that when presented with instructions to choose products based solely on utilitarian/functional attributes, more participants chose AI-recommended products. When asked to only consider hedonic/experiential attributes, a higher percentage of participants chose human recommenders.”

When utilitarian features are most important, the word-of-machine effect was more distinct. In one study, participants were asked to imagine buying a winter coat and rate how important utilitarian/functional attributes (e.g., breathability) and hedonic/experiential attributes (e.g., fabric type) were in their decision making. The more utilitarian/functional features were highly rated, the greater the preference for AI over human assistance, and the more hedonic/experiential features were highly rated, the greater the preference for human over AI assistance.

Another study indicated that when consumers wanted recommendations matched to their unique preferences, they resisted AI recommenders and preferred human recommenders regardless of hedonic or utilitarian preferences. These results suggest that companies whose customers are known to be satisfied with “one size fits all” recommendations (i.e., not in need of a high level of customization) may rely on AI-systems. However, companies whose customers are known to desire personalized recommendations should rely on humans.

Although there is a clear correlation between utilitarian attributes and consumer trust in AI recommenders, companies selling products that promise more sensorial experiences (e.g., fragrances, food, wine) may still use AI to engage customers. In fact, people embrace AI’s recommendations as long as AI works in partnership with humans. When AI plays an assistive role, “augmenting” human intelligence rather than replacing it, the AI-human hybrid recommender performs as well as a human-only assistant.

Overall, the word-of-machine effect has important implications as the development and adoption of AI, machine learning, and natural language processing challenges managers and policy-makers to harness these transformative technologies. As Cian says, “The digital marketplace is crowded and consumer attention span is short. Understanding the conditions under which consumers trust, and do not trust, AI advice will give companies a competitive advantage in this space.”

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Materials provided by American Marketing Association. Original written by Matt Weingarden. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Cutting edge technology to bioprint mini-kidneys

Researchers have used cutting edge technology to bioprint miniature human kidneys in the lab, paving the way for new treatments for kidney failure and possibly lab-grown transplants.

The study, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and biotech company Organovo and published in Nature Materials, saw the research team also validate the use of 3D bioprinted human mini kidneys for screening of drug toxicity from a class of drugs known to cause kidney damage in people.

The research showed how 3D bioprinting of stem cells can produce large enough sheets of kidney tissue needed for transplants.

Like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube, extrusion-based 3D bioprinting uses a ‘bioink’ made from a stem cell paste, squeezed out through a computer-guided pipette to create artificial living tissue in a dish.

MCRI researchers teamed up with San Diego based Organovo Inc to create the mini organs.

MCRI Professor Melissa Little, a world leader in modelling the human kidney, first began growing kidney organoids in 2015. But this new bio-printing method is faster, more reliable and allows the whole process to be scaled up. 3D bioprinting could now create about 200 mini kidneys in 10 minutes without compromising quality, the study found.

From larger than a grain of rice to the size of a fingernail, bioprinted mini-kidneys fully resemble a regular-sized kidney, including the tiny tubes and blood vessels that form the organ’s filtering structures called nephrons.

Professor Little said by using mini-organs her team hope to screen drugs to find new treatments for kidney disease or to test if a new drug was likely to injure the kidney.

“Drug-induced injury to the kidney is a major side effect and difficult to predict using animal studies. Bioprinting human kidneys are a practical approach to testing for toxicity before use,” she said.

In this study, the toxicity of aminoglycosides, a class of antibiotics that commonly damage the kidney, were tested.

“We found increased death of particular types of cells in the kidneys treated with aminoglycosides,” Professor Little said.

“By generating stem cells from a patient with a genetic kidney disease, and then growing mini kidneys from them, also paves the way for tailoring treatment plans specific to each patient, which could be extended to a range of kidney diseases.”

Professor Little said the study showed growing human tissue from stem cells also brought the promise of bioengineered kidney tissue.

“3D bioprinting can generate larger amounts of kidney tissue but with precise manipulation of biophysical properties, including cell number and conformation, improving the outcome,” she said.

Currently, 1.5 million Australians are unaware they are living with early signs of kidney disease such as decreased urine output, fluid retention and shortness of breath.

Professor Little said prior to this study the possibility of using mini kidneys to generate transplantable tissue was too far away to contemplate.

“The pathway to renal replacement therapy using stem cell-derived kidney tissue will need a massive increase in the number of nephron structures present in the tissue to be transplanted,” she said.

“By using extrusion bioprinting, we improved the final nephron count, which will ultimately determine whether we can transplant these tissues into people.”

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DCED

Wolf Administration Highlights Partnership Between Letterkenny Army Depot and WellSpan Health to Protect Medical Professionals, Community – PA Department of Community & Economic Development

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin highlighted the efforts of Letterkenny Army Depot for its pivot to produce 120,000 protective medical gowns for WellSpan Health through a Public Private Partnership in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the ability for medical professionals to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE). A Public Private Partnership allows members of the Army’s Organic Industrial Base facilities like Letterkenny Army Depot to manufacture or sell products or services to the private sector. The Army depot also developed cloth face mask prototypes for WellSpan and shared the designs with other community partners.

Letterkenny is one of several military installations supported through DCED’s Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission (PMCEC). The commission provides funding to communities to support and enhance the value of their local military installations.

“Earlier this year when COVID-19 was beginning to overwhelm healthcare organizations, we were facing a major supply shortage for critical PPE for some of our most frontline and essential workers,” said Sec. Davin. “Letterkenny didn’t hesitate when approached for help by medical leaders in their community, showcasing qualities we know represent the committed members of our state’s military entities—ambition, dependability, and teamwork.”

In early April, Chambersburg Hospital became aware of Letterkenny’s upholstery shop in Franklin County through a local news special highlighting how the Army depot adjusted operations to create around 14,000 cloth masks for its employees and other Department of Defense installations. Within a day, WellSpan and Letterkenny were connected and began evaluating the capabilities of the Army depot’s upholstery shop, which traditionally makes items like canvas tents and kitchen and vinyl products. In York, WellSpan facilities were in dire need of isolation medical gowns and reached out to Letterkenny for assistance. Letterkenny immediately entered into the Public Private Partnership and reallocated resources to staff the upholstery shop to begin making gowns.

Pennsylvania has 13 military installations supported through PMCEC. Letterkenny serves as the Department of Defense Center of Industrial and Technical Excellence for Air Defense & Tactical Missile Ground Support Equipment, Mobile Electric Power Generation Equipment, Patriot Missile Recertification and Route Clearance Vehicles.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Department of Health website. To receive the latest updates follow the Department of Health on Facebook