Welcome to the first Sunday Science of the new year; I’m planning now to do this series fortnightly, instead of weekly, to allow me more time to write posts on more specific topics. So, due to the holiday, this week we have a bumper issue, featuring neural networks, artificial sperm, bionic hands, science fiction speculation and more.
An utterly lovely and fascinating set of interviews in Nature with some luminaries of the science fiction field, discussing “Science fiction when the future is now.” Well worth reading.
Neural networks are making it much easier to process biological images. This could be a quiet game-changer: when I was doing research not so long ago, one of the main stumbling blocks was trying to quantitatively analyse vast amounts of high quality image data. We collaborated with mathematicians, but it was a slow process to get a workable programme.
A year late, but now the data is in, it turns out 2016 was the first year in which there were less than 100,000 measles deaths a year – thanks to vaccination, which is estimated to have prevented over 20 million measles deaths between 2000-2016.
It turns out, as researchers have long suspected, that the push to produce papers for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which determines university funding, leads to quantity over quality as it forces researchers to squeeze their work into REF cycles.
Neonicotinoid pesticides have been implicated in the decline of honeybees, but now it seems that common fungicides may also be seriously impacting bee health. (Link to original research article).
Weather fluctuations can be used to predict changes in the numbers of asylum applications (yes you read that right). On a serious note, this is more evidence for the negative effect of climate change on societal stability, and its role in promoting human conflict. Regrettably, this is behind Science’s paywall. For an earlier example of climate change driving human migration, there’s an interesting study of 19th century migration from Germany to the US here, with an accessible news feature here.
Sequencing of the sooty mangabey genome sequence (featured image) has given clues to natural AIDS resistance, as these monkeys are infected by Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (from which HIV evolved) without suffering disease. Image and more info from here.
One from the mainstream news: scientists have taken a step closer to making artificial sperm.
Finally, I’ve blogged before about the incredible advances in artificial prostheses. Now scientists have developed an artificial hand capable of providing sensation that can be used outside the laboratory (Ignore the flowery frame – the video is good).