This week…a new human organ, hyperglycaemic fish that don’t get diabetes, a game to wise players up to fake news, hi-tech 3D printing, and malicious use of AI….
Firstly, and I promise no April Fool’s joke here….A new human organ has been discovered. It seems bizarre that, after years of high-tech medicine, an entire organ can go unnoticed, but this is a nice illustration of how the techniques used to study human tissues can generate artefacts. In this case, standard tissue preparation led to the collapse of fluid-filled compartments, now known as the interstitium, thought to act as a shock-absorber to protect the body’s other internal organs from damage (it’s certainly a new tissue…a new organ might be pushing it a bit). Studying its function might help explain the spread of cancer around the body. Accessible news article version here.
Mexican cavefish, which lack eyes (as they live in the dark) have been an animal model of study for their embryological development and evolution for some years now. As well as being eyeless, they have other novelties: one being that, compared to freshwater populations (which have eyes), they have more fat stores and resistant to starvation. Astonishingly, it turns out they have a mutant version of the insulin receptor – in fact, identical to a mutation causing human diabetes. They get insulin resistance, weight gain and high blood glucose levels. What they don’t get is diabetes, as such – it’s not pathological, but may even be an adaptation to a nutrient poor environment, and the fish thrive. More work to be done as to why but it’s an intriguing puzzle. (Link is to a news & views opinion piece, including a link to the original article and a podcast).
An important study of global wildlife changes over nearly thirty years (focusing on waterbirds) has found that low levels of effective national governance are the strongest predictor of declining species numbers — more so than economic growth, climate change or human population growth. I find this paradoxically both depressing and hopeful: on the depressing side, it’s a clear indicator of the damage humans do to the ecosystem, but, on the hopeful side, if this is the most important factor, then generating and maintaining stable political systems on its own will lead to improvements in biodiversity conservation. Science Daily summary here.
Concerned about rogue AI? Or just the use of AI by rogue states to, I don’t know, disrupt the democratic process? (Insert poker face here). Several global AI experts have now authored a report outlining the potential malicious use of AI, and what can be done to try and counteract this. Link is to a news article but the full report is linked within.
A new type of 3D printer is for the first time able to make devices out of several materials in one print-run. So far it’s only printed relatively simple electronic devices but should be able to scaled up to far more sophisticated uses, such as robotic arms. Incidentally, should you want to make your own more standard 3D bioprinter, another group of researchers has released detailed instructions, open source, for how to do just that by modifying a basic desktop printer (link to original paper in news report).
On a similar note, if you want to try and train yourself so that you’re not taken in by fake news, there’s an online game you can play here. In fact, the game encourages you to start trying to create your own fake news and propaganda so that you can get in the mindset of people who do it. It’s short and really rather fun. Aim to be as evil as possible and you’ll learn something! Some more background information on the game (published in the journal of Risk Research), may be found here.
Finally, now that it seems that we in the UK are not in for any more unusual cold spells of weather, this week’s featured image is a model of a melting snowflake, that reproduces key features of melting snowflakes that have been naturally: meltwater gathers in any concave regions of the snowflake’s surface, and these regions merge together as they grow, eventually forming a liquid shell around an ice core, before finally becoming a water drop. The model will help scientists recognise characteristics of heavier, wetter snow, which causes more disruption to power lines and transport. Credit: NASA.