Next-generation of GPS satellites are headed to space
By DAN ELLIOTT
Monday, December 17
DENVER (AP) — After months of delays, the U.S. Air Force is about to launch the first of a new generation of GPS satellites, designed to be more accurate, secure and versatile.
But some of their most highly touted features will not be fully available until 2022 or later because of problems in a companion program to develop a new ground control system for the satellites, government auditors said.
The satellite is scheduled to lift off Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It’s the first of 32 planned GPS III satellites that will replace older ones now in orbit. Lockheed Martin is building the new satellites outside Denver.
GPS is best-known for its widespread civilian applications, from navigation to time-stamping bank transactions. The Air Force estimates that 4 billion people worldwide use the system.
But it was developed by the U.S. military, which still designs, launches and operates the system. The Air Force controls a constellation of 31 GPS satellites from a high-security complex at Schriever Air Force Base outside Colorado Springs.
Compared with their predecessors, GPS III satellites will have a stronger military signal that’s harder to jam — an improvement that became more urgent after Norway accused Russia of disrupting GPS signals during a NATO military exercise this fall.
GPS III also will provide a new civilian signal compatible with other countries’ navigation satellites, such as the European Union’s Galileo system. That means civilian receivers capable of receiving the new signal will have more satellites to lock in on, improving accuracy.
“If your phone is looking for satellites, the more it can see, the more it can know where it is,” said Chip Eschenfelder, a Lockheed Martin spokesman.
The new satellites are expected to provide location information that’s three times more accurate than the current satellites.
Current civilian GPS receivers are accurate to within 10 to 33 feet (3 to 10 meters), depending on conditions, said Glen Gibbons, the founder and former editor of Inside GNSS, a website and magazine that tracks global navigation satellite systems.
With the new satellites, civilian receivers could be accurate to within 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 meters) under good conditions, and military receivers could be a little closer, he said.
Only some aspects of the stronger, jamming-resistant military signal will be available until a new and complex ground control system is available, and that is not expected until 2022 or 2023, said Cristina Chaplain, who tracks GPS and other programs for the Government Accountability Office.
Chaplain said the new civilian frequency won’t be available at all until the new control system is ready.
The price of the first 10 satellites is estimated at $577 million each, up about 6 percent from the original 2008 estimate when adjusted for inflation, Chaplain said.
The Air Force said in September it expects the remaining 22 satellites to cost $7.2 billion, but the GAO estimated the cost at $12 billion.
The first GPS III satellite was declared ready nearly 2½ years behind schedule. The problems included delays in the delivery of key components, retesting of other components and a decision by the Air Force to use a Falcon 9 rocket for the first time for a GPS launch, Chaplain said. That required extra time to certify the Falcon 9 for a GPS mission.
The new ground control system, called OCX, is in worse shape. OCX, which is being developed by Raytheon, is at least four years behind schedule and is expected to cost $2.5 billion more than the original $3.7 billion, Chaplain said.
The Defense Department has struggled with making sure OCX meets cybersecurity standards, she said. A Pentagon review said both the government and Raytheon performed poorly on the program.
Raytheon has overcome the cybersecurity problems, and the program has been on budget and on schedule for more than a year, said Bill Sullivan, a Raytheon vice president in the OCX system.
Sullivan said the company is on track to deliver the system to the Air Force in June 2021, ahead of GAO’s estimates.
The Air Force has developed work-arounds so it can launch and use GPS III satellites until OCX is ready to go.
While the first GPS III waits for liftoff in Florida, the second is complete and ready to be transported to Cape Canaveral. It sits in a cavernous “clean room” at a Lockheed Martin complex in the Rocky Mountain foothills south of Denver.
It’s expected to launch next summer, although the exact date hasn’t been announced, said Jonathon Caldwell, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s GPS program.
Six other GPS satellites are under construction in the clean room, which is carefully protected against dust and other foreign particles.
“It’s the highest-volume production line in space,” Caldwell said.
For the first time, the Air Force is assigning nicknames to the GPS III satellites. The first one is Vespucci, after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian navigator whose name was adopted by early mapmakers for the continents of the Western Hemisphere.
Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP .
One type of brain cell may invite Alzheimer’s
Research on toxic proteins could drive treatment strategies
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Better tactics for detecting, preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease depend on a clearer understanding of cellular-level changes in the minds of patients, and a new study has uncovered novel details about the vulnerability of one type of brain cell.
Researchers found that excitatory neurons – those that are more likely to trigger an action (as opposed to inhibitory neurons, which are less likely to prompt neural activity) – are more vulnerable to accumulations of abnormal tau protein, which is increasingly being implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
The study also uncovered some possible genetic explanations for the vulnerability of those cells, work that has the potential to one day lead to targeted treatment. The study, co-led by Hongjun “Harry” Fu of The Ohio State University, appears today (Dec. 17, 2018) in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Fu, who recently came to Ohio State from Columbia University, co-led the research with Karen Duff of Columbia and Michele Vendruscolo of the University of Cambridge.
Much of the research on Alzheimer’s disease in the past focused on the buildup of amyloid beta proteins in the brain. But work by Fu and his collaborators is focused on another protein linked to the disease, called tau.
Tau plays an important role in normal, healthy neurological activity. But when it builds up within neurons early on in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, it clogs and then kills those cells. Excessive accumulation of the abnormal tau protein also has been linked to other neurological diseases, including dementia and traumatic brain injury, said Fu, an assistant professor of neuroscience, who is also a member of the Neurological Institute at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and part of the university’s Chronic Brain Injury program.
The researchers studied the brains of patients who had Alzheimer’s disease and also a mouse model and found that the abnormal tau protein accumulated predominantly in excitatory neurons, rather than inhibitory neurons.
Then, using genetic analysis from the brains of donors who did not have Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological disorders, they found significant genetic differences between the excitatory neurons and other cells that seemed to explain the excitatory neurons’ susceptibility.
Furthermore, the researchers confirmed that one of the “master regulator” genes, BAG3, is responsible for the clearance of abnormal tau protein.
“We think there’s a really early, intrinsic difference in the brain cells that are prone to the accumulation of tau protein, which may explain why only certain neurons and brain regions are vulnerable to this problem in early Alzheimer’s,” Fu said.
“If we can figure out the molecular determinants underlying vulnerability to this disease, it will help us better understand the development of Alzheimer’s disease and potentially could lead to techniques for early detection and targeted treatment.”
Fu said future research will focus on understanding how genes interact with each other and contribute to vulnerability in Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological diseases associated with tau accumulation.
“Other brain cells, including microglia, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, have also been found to play important roles in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. We are very interested to understand how those cells communicate with each other and affect the vulnerability of certain neurons,” Fu said.
“Environmental factors, brain injury, diabetes, sleep deprivation, depression and other outside factors also have been linked to increased vulnerability to Alzheimer’s. We want to understand how intrinsic differences interact with these outside influences.”
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer’s Association, The BrightFocus Foundation, the Tau Consortium and the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund.
URL : http://news.osu.edu/one-type-of-brain-cell-may-invite-alzheimers/
PUCO Nominating Council seeks applicants for commissioner position
COLUMBUS, OHIO (Dec. 17, 2018) – The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Nominating Council is seeking applications for the position of commissioner of the PUCO to fill a five-year term that begins on April 11, 2019. Applications must be delivered to the Nominating Council no later than 5 p.m. EST on Jan. 17, 2019.
The PUCO Nominating Council is a broad-based 12-member panel that screens candidates for the position of PUCO commissioner. The PUCO is comprised of five commissioners appointed to rotating, five-year terms by the governor. The commissioners are responsible for regulating Ohio’s investor-owned public utilities.
After reviewing the résumés of all applicants, the Nominating Council will narrow the list to those most qualified for the position. On Jan. 31, 2019, the Nominating Council will meet to interview the selected applicants and recommend four finalists to Gov. Mike DeWine. The governor will have 30 days to either appoint a commissioner from the list or request a new list from the Nominating Council. The governor’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Ohio Senate.
The full text of the commissioner position posting is provided below. For additional information about the PUCO appointment process please visit www.PUCO.ohio.gov.
PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION OF OHIO
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Nominating Council is seeking applications for the position of commissioner of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to fill the term commencing on April 11, 2019, and ending on April 10, 2024. This is a full-time position with a salary range of $73,715 to $190,486. The commissioner’s actual salary will be determined by the Governor. The normal state of Ohio benefits package will be provided.
The Public Utilities Commission is responsible for regulating investor-owned public utilities in the state of Ohio. Section 4901.02(D) of the Ohio Revised Code requires that a commissioner have a minimum of three years’ experience in one or more of the following fields: economics, law, finance, accounting, engineering, physical or natural sciences, natural resources, or environmental studies. No person employed by a public utility subject to regulation by the Public Utilities Commission or holding stocks or bonds of a regulated public utility may be appointed a commissioner. A commissioner must be a resident of Ohio.
The Revised Code also specifies that the Commission may consist of no more than three members of the same political affiliation. Political affiliation is based upon one’s vote in the last primary election as defined under Sections 3513.19 and 3513.05, Revised Code. Based upon the present composition of the Commission, the position may be filled by an applicant of any political affiliation. Successful candidates must undergo a background check by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Applicants are required to send 16 copies of a current resume with a one-page cover letter attached to each resume. The cover letter and resume shall be stapled once in the upper left-hand corner. In the cover letter, the applicant must (1) indicate the applicant’s expertise in the areas of energy, transportation, or communications technology, if any; (2) explain why the applicant’s prior experience makes him or her qualified to be a commissioner or why the applicant is otherwise qualified to be a commissioner; and (3) state his or her political party affiliation or independent status.
Resumes shall be sent to: Public Utilities Commission Nominating Council, c/o Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, 180 E. Broad Street, 11th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215-3793. For further information, contact the Nominating Council coordinator, Angela Hawkins, at (614) 466-0122.
Information regarding the position and application requirements may also be found at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio website: www.puco.ohio.gov.
Applications will be accepted until 5:00 p.m., Thursday, January 17, 2019. Mailed or hand-delivered applications must be received by that time. Faxed applications will not be considered.
The members of the Public Utilities Commission Nominating Council will review the applications and select individuals to be interviewed for the position. Interested persons may submit comments to the members of the Nominating Council regarding any of the applicants. Comments should be submitted to the Nominating Council coordinator. Persons interested in receiving a list of the names of persons submitting applications or selected to be interviewed should notify the Nominating Council coordinator at the above address or telephone number. The Nominating Council will determine the four most qualified persons for the position and submit those names to Governor DeWine who will then select the commissioner.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is the sole agency charged with regulating public utility service. The role of the PUCO is to assure all residential, business and industrial consumers have access to adequate, safe and reliable utility services at fair prices while facilitating an environment that provides competitive choices. Consumers with utility-related questions or concerns can call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) and speak with a representative.
Ohio Makes Sweeping Reforms to Protect Consumers and Further Strengthen Ohio’s Insurance Industry
December 17, 2018
Ohio Department of Insurance
COLUMBUS — Ohio Department of Insurance Director Jillian Froment today announced passage of a number of changes to Ohio law that will benefit Ohio consumers while further strengthening Ohio’s robust insurance market. Among the changes made by Ohio’s legislature are sweeping cybersecurity reforms that will help to better protect Ohio consumers while providing a level playing field for Ohio insurers.
“Ohio continues to lead the nation when it comes to implementing common sense reforms that are good for consumers and also fair for Ohio’s growing insurance industry,” Froment said. “These reforms were made possible thanks to significant collaborative work with many stakeholder groups and the tireless efforts of Chairmen Jay Hottinger and Tom Brinkman as well as the main sponsor of these reforms, Senator Bob Hackett.”
Ohio insurers will implement plans to safeguard business and personal information from cyber-attacks. In addition, insurers will develop response plans in the event that a cyber-attack does occur. As part of that plan, insurers are required to investigate the incident, report the event and other relevant information to the Department of Insurance and also notify those impacted by the event. These changes make Ohio one of the first states in the country to implement cybersecurity reforms specific to insurers.
In addition to the cybersecurity provisions included in Senate Bill 273, changes have been made to strengthen Ohio’s insurance market. One provision will increase competition in Ohio for rating agencies that provide assessments of insurance companies.
In addition, insurers based in Ohio will now be able to offer surplus lines insurance products as domestic surplus lines insurers. Prior to these changes, surplus lines insurers based in Ohio were subject to duplicative regulatory requirements that were costly and unnecessary. Products sold through a surplus line insurer often carry different risk than traditional insurance products and may also serve smaller, more specific segments of the market.
“Insurance continues to be a strong and growing industry in Ohio,” Froment added. “We must continue to evolve and adapt in order to regulate in a way that protects the consumer while fostering creativity and innovation throughout the industry.”
Ohio is home to 270 insurers, is the sixth largest insurance state in the country and the 19th largest insurance market in the world with $84 billion in premium volume. In addition, more than 1,600 insurance companies are regulated by the Department of Insurance and there are more than 220,000 insurance agents and 18,000 insurance agencies licensed in Ohio.
Senate Bill 273 passed both the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and now goes to Governor Kasich to be signed into law.
What a Newfound Kingdom Means for the Tree of Life
Neither animal, plant, fungus nor familiar protozoan, a strange microbe that sits in its own “supra-kingdom” of life foretells incredible biodiversity yet to be discovered by new sequencing technologies.
December 11, 2018
The tree of life just got another major branch. Researchers recently found a certain rare and mysterious microbe called a hemimastigote in a clump of Nova Scotian soil. Their subsequent analysis of its DNA revealed that it was neither animal, plant, fungus nor any recognized type of protozoan — that it in fact fell far outside any of the known large categories for classifying complex forms of life (eukaryotes). Instead, this flagella-waving oddball stands as the first member of its own “supra-kingdom” group, which probably peeled away from the other big branches of life at least a billion years ago.
“It’s the sort of result you hope to see once in a career,” said Alastair Simpson, a microbiologist at Dalhousie University who led the study.
Impressive as this finding about hemimastigotes is on its own, what matters more is that it’s just the latest (and most profound) of a quietly and steadily growing number of major taxonomic additions. Researchers keep uncovering not just new species or classes but entirely new kingdoms of life — raising questions about how they have stayed hidden for so long and how close we are to finding them all.
Yana Eglit is a Dalhousie graduate student dedicated to discovering novel lineages of the single-cell eukaryotes called protists. While hiking in Nova Scotia on a cold spring day in 2016, she fell back from her friends to scrape a few grams of dirt into a plastic tube. (Such impromptu soil sampling, she said, is “a professional hazard.”) Back in the lab, Eglit soaked her sample in water, and over the next month she periodically peeked at it through a microscope for signs of unusual life.
Late one evening, something odd in the sample caught her eye. An elongated cell radiating whiplike flagella was “awkwardly swimming, as though it didn’t realize it had all these flagella that could help it move,” Eglit said. Under a more powerful scope, she saw it fit the description of a hemimastigote, a rare kind of protist that was notoriously hard to cultivate. The next morning, the lab was abuzz with excitement over the opportunity to describe and sequence the specimen. “We dropped everything,” she recalled.
Hemimastigotes represent one of a handful of Rumsfeldian “known unknown” protist lineages — moderately well-described groups whose positions on the tree of life are not precisely known because they are difficult to culture in a lab and sequence. Protistologists have used peculiarities of hemimastigotes’ structure to infer their close relatives, but their guesses were “‘shotgunned’ all over the phylogeny,” Simpson said. Without molecular data, lineages like hemimastigotes remain orphans of unknown ancestry.
But a new method called single-cell transcriptomics has revolutionized such studies. It enables researchers to sequence large numbers of genes from just one cell. Gordon Lax, another graduate student in the Simpson lab and an expert on this method, explained that for hard-to-study organisms like hemimastigotes, single-cell transcriptomics can produce genetic data of a quality previously reserved for more abundant cells, making deeper genomic comparisons finally possible.
The team sequenced more than 300 genes, and Laura Eme, now a postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University, modeled how those genes evolved to infer a classification for hemimastigotes. “We were fully expecting them to fall within one of the existing supergroups,” she explained. Lab members were instead stunned to find that hemimastigotes fit nowhere on the tree. They represented their own distinct lineage apart from the other half-dozen super groups.
To understand how evolutionarily distinct the hemimastigote lineage is, imagine the eukaryotic tree splayed out before you on the ground as a narrowing set of paths, which begin with places for all living groups of eukaryotes near your toes and converge far in the distance at our common ancestor. Starting at our mammalian tip, walk down the path and back into history, past the fork where our lineage diverged from reptiles and birds, past the turnoffs for fishes, for starfish and for insects, and then farther still, beyond the split that separates us from fungi. If you turn around and look back, all the diverse organisms you passed fall within just one of the six eukaryote supergroups. Hemimastigotes are still up ahead, in a supergroup of their own, on a path that nothing else occupies.
Fabien Burki, a biologist at Uppsala University in Sweden who wasn’t involved in this study, was happy to see this result, but not entirely surprised. “It’s a bit like searching for life on other planets,” he said. “When we finally find it, I don’t think we will be very surprised, but it will be a huge discovery.”
Burki, Simpson, Eglit and many others also think we have much more of the tree of life to uncover, largely because of how quickly it’s changing. “The tree of life is being reshaped by new data. It is really quite different than even what it was 15 or 20 years ago,” Burki said. “We’re seeing a tree with many more branches than we thought.”
Finding a lineage as distinct as hemimastigotes is still relatively rare. But if you go down a level or two on the hierarchy, to the mere kingdom level — the one that encompasses, say, all animals — you find that new major lineages are popping up about once a year. “That rate isn’t slowing down,” said Simpson. “If anything, it might be speeding up.”
The availability of more capable sequencing technology such as single-cell transcriptomics is part of what’s driving this trend in eukaryotes, especially for known unknown groups. It empowers researchers to glean usable DNA from single specimens. But Eme cautions that these methods still require the keen eye of skilled protistologists, like Eglit, “so that we can actually target what we want to look at.”
Another kind of sequencing, called metagenomics, could accelerate discovery even further. Researchers can now venture into the field, grab a sample of dirt from the trail or a biofilm from a deep-sea vent, and sequence everything in the sample. The catch is that it’s usually just a snippet of one gene. For bacteria and archaea — organisms in the two other domains of life distinct from eukaryotes — that’s usually enough to work with, and metagenomics has been behind recent huge discoveries such as the Asgard archaea, an enormous phylum of archaea totally unknown to science until about three years ago.
But for eukaryotes, which tend to have larger and more complicated genomes, metagenomics is a troublesomely broad way to sample. It reveals many types of organisms that live in an environment, “but unless you have a larger known reference sequence, it’s very difficult to put these different things into an evolutionary framework,” Burki said. That’s why, according to Simpson, most of the recent, really deep eukaryotic lineages have been discovered the “old fashioned” way, through identifying a weird protist in the lab and targeting it for sequencing.
“But the two methods are complementary and inform one another,” Simpson said. For example, it’s now clear that hemimastigotes popped up in previously published metagenomic databases. Yet “we just had no way of recognizing them until we had longer hemimastigote sequences to compare them to,” he said. Metagenomics can point to potential hot spots of unknown diversity, and deeper sequencing can make metagenomic data more meaningful.
The future is bright for researchers cataloging diversity, in both ordinary and extraordinary environments. While metagenomic tools allow us to explore extreme environments — like the sediment near hydrothermal vents where the Asgard archaea were found — researchers can also find new lineages in their backyards. “This whole new supra-kingdom lineage was discovered by a graduate student out on a hike who happened to collect some dirt,” Burki said. “Imagine if we could scan every environment on Earth.”
As scientists continue to fill out the tree, the algorithms used to add branches will only get more efficient, according to Eme. This will help researchers resolve deeper, more ancient splits in the history of life. “Our understanding of how life unfolded is still very much incomplete,” said Burki. Questions like why eukaryotes emerged or how photosynthesis evolved remain unanswered because “we don’t have a tree that is stable enough to pinpoint where these key events happened,” he said.
Beyond answering such fundamental questions, the simple joy of discovery motivates researchers like Burki and Eglit. “The microbial world is a wide-open frontier,” said Eglit. “It’s thrilling to explore what’s out there.”