Excerpts from science, technology, health and environment reports from around the web.

Princeton researchers, using a 3-D printer, have built a bionic ear with integrated electronics

Lab-made organs could do more than just serve as ready options for patients in need: with the right blend of biology and materials science, they might even be able to endow people with superhuman abilities.

Demand for cashmere triggers ecological imbalance in Central Asian deserts

The demand for cashmere wool among the world's fashion-conscious is affecting the delicate ecology of the cold deserts of Central Asia. Large-scale introduction of cashmere producing goats is displacing several native species of hoofed mammals in Ladakh, the Tibetan plateau and large parts of Mongolia, according to a new study. This has triggered a series of ecological problems in the region.

Consumer genetic test can predict your drug response

A personal genetics startup thinks that there is one set of DNA variants that everyone should know: the ones that help determine how you respond to drugs.

Genome Liberty, a New Jersey-based startup, wants to provide a $99 test that will tell customers, based on their genetics, if they should take a nonstandard dose of a drug because their body will break it down faster or slower than most people. In some cases the test might suggest a particular drug someone should take or avoid. “The idea is to give you a card to keep in your wallet, or an iPhone app, which says which medications you shouldn’t take,” says cofounder Jeffrey Rosenfeld, a genome scientist at Rutgers University.

Twisted magnetic fields tie information in a knot

Tying knots in a piece of string is an age-old way of remembering things. Now physicists have succeeded in tying and untying microscopic magnetic vortices that may lead to more efficient computer memory.

The twisted vortices, known as skyrmions, are arrangements of atoms, with each atom acting like a bar magnet owing to a quantum property of its electrons called spin. An external magnetic field would normally tend to align all the atomic bar magnets in the same direction, but in the case of a skyrmion, the magnetization of the atoms is arrayed in a twisted vortex.

What’s next for Kepler? NASA’s storied planet hunter is looking for a job.

Mechanical problems that cropped up last July have prevented the craft from pointing itself as precisely as mission scientists require. Engineers haven't been able to fix the problems, despite what NASA officials call "the extraordinary effort" by the Kepler team to do so.

But the craft's scientific instruments are still functioning, and Kepler's tanks appear to have enough thruster fuel to last for a few more years, mission managers say.

The strong magnetic field around our galaxy’s black hole

Even though they’re among the most compelling topics to study, black holes are still mysterious to astronomers. Since its discovery nearly 40 years ago, the black hole at the centre of our galaxy has eluded most close scrutiny because (unsurprisingly) black holes emit so little light.

Luckily, a recently discovered star near the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy is now helping scientists learn about these cosmic conundrums’ eating habits.

After Big Bang, galaxies wasted no time forming, Hubble data show

Galaxies appear to have matured much sooner in the early universe than previously estimated, adding intriguing twists to the history that astronomers are compiling of the growth and evolution of these vast collections of stars.

Using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope, a team of scientists found that galaxies of all sizes had fallen into two main shapes – disks and spherical – by 2.5 billion years after the big bang (an enormous release of energy that cosmologists say gave rise to the universe humans observe today).


Scientists discover ‘tilted’ solar system October 18, 2013

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