Welcome to this week’s Sunday Science, with skin regeneration, bees and pesticides, evolving bacterial ecosystems, and sensitive robot skin.
First up, a major breakthrough which did make the mainstream news was the story of a boy with a lethal condition which had resulted in the loss of most of his skin, who had genetically engineered skin grafts (pictured) and is now living essentially a normal life. There’s a Nature opinion piece here which has a more scientific slant, putting this research in context. The original research article is here, and open access (be warned it has a distressing photo of the child pre-treatment). Although extremely rare, these genetic diseases do affect nearly half a million people worldwide, and are agonising and often fatal.
I’ve blogged before about “soft robotics” inspired by biology. A couple of stories I missed earlier include this piece on an artificial “skin” for robots that can be stretched and detect vibration and shear forces, crucial for handling objects. Also, other scientists have developed robotic skin that can change shape and colour, inspired by cephalopods, which is rather cool. (Research article may be found here, but it’s behind the Science paywall).
There has been an ongoing long-term experiment observing thousands of generations of the bacteria E.coli, to observe evolution in action. The latest results reveal that – even in bacteria – ecological interactions arise spontaneously, and the bacteria form little specialised sub-populations. Link is to an opinion piece; the full-text article link can be found from that for the technically minded.
There’s been a lot in the press recently about calls to ban neonicotinoid pesticides. The UK has long resisted efforts in the EU to ban them – now it seems that it will push for a full ban. There’s a thoughtful opinion piece here that weighs up the evidence behind this. (I should note a disclaimer in that Prof Dave Goulson, quoted in the piece, works at my institution).
Photo: Nature Press.