In this week’s Sunday Science, tattoo art meets wearable tech, a machine that can read your thoughts, new brain cells, frogs and climate change weakening ocean currents… Continue reading
Welcome to this week’s Sunday Science stories, with a new look at diabetes, novel approaches to brain injury and Alzheimer’s, brainy birds, and more…
This week in Sunday Science: curious facts about survival and aging, a new understanding of asthma, extra-galactic planets and 3D images projected onto thin air…
It’s well-known that, despite the vast majority undergoing the rigours of childbirth, women live longer than men. It’s why evolution favours a slightly biased birth ratio of around 105 male : 100 female births, so that the sexes are roughly 50:50 by the time they reach reproductive age. An interesting but somewhat grim study on survival under conditions of extreme mortality, such as disease epidemics and starvation, reveals that in general this still holds true – women survive better than men (generally) even under terrible conditions. The gap is largely attributable to female infants surviving better than male ones.
Also on the theme of longevity, naked mole rats (featured image) don’t have an increased risk of dying as they get older. This seems to defy what is known as Gompertz’s mortality law, which states that the risk of death for a typical mammal grows exponentially after they reach sexual maturity. This suggests that these unusual animals don’t age in the conventional sense. Original article here.
A new explanation for why the airways close up in asthma has been discovered. It’s to do with an overproduction of mucus being stimulated by immune cells. This offers another potential avenue for treatment other than steroids. Original research article here (paywalled)
Plastic waste on coral reefs not only poses a pollution hazard to animals living there, but in damaging the coral and leading to bacterial infections. Original research article here. (Science paywall I’m afraid).
Not so much news, but a thoughtful retrospective on a paper published 50 years ago that first predicted the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet.
Astrophysicists have now detected planets that are not only not in our solar system, but not in our galaxy, which is quite astonishing.
And finally…you know how thanks to great special effects, all science fiction films seem to have some sort of sequence with what looks like a “hologram” projected in the air? Well, inspired by one of the original efforts, Princess Leia’s distress call in Star Wars, researchers have managed to do just that. It’s a photophoretic-trap volumetric display, and it’s way beyond my understanding (deservedly published in Nature), and very cool.
Excellent video below (also in the news article I linked to):
Featured image: Jedimentat44/flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
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).
There was an interesting piece in the Guardian the other day about the “seven megatrends” that could beat global warming. I thought I’d link to it because it brings together lots of different trends, and it’s nice to see something optimistic for a change. Of course, this is in the face of another headline which indicates that, after three years of flatlining, fossil fuel emissions are set to rise to a record high this year. So is there real reason for hope?
Welcome to this week’s Sunday Science, featuring renewable energy, the results of a big study into gene expression, and rainstorms on Titan.
First, some good news. 2016 saw record growth in renewable energy, with solar energy leading the charge. New solar PV capacity around the world grew by 50%, and solar PV additions rose faster than any other fuel for the first time, surpassing the net growth in coal. China is the lead in this, interestingly. Video below, but the report from the International Energy Agency is well worth reading.
Since we learnt how DNA codes for genes, the great puzzle has been trying to figure out how you turn genes on and off in appropriate cells, such that, for example, your liver cells don’t express brain proteins. The GTEx consortium, which aimed to answer this question, now reports on the variations in gene expression between tissues and individuals. Fairly technical Nature News article with links to the original (open access) papers.
There’s a plethora of online “intelligence” tests of more or less reliability, but here’s one with a difference: Cognitron is an AI-based web server that aims to learn about human intelligence, and develop improved cognitive tests along the way. (No I haven’t done them yet but I plan to!)
And finally, Earth isn’t the only place in the solar system to have intense storms. Titan one of Saturn’s moons, has intense rainstorms – of liquid methane. Featured Image is of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, behind the planet’s rings. The tiny moon Epimetheus is visible in the foreground.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute, via Science Daily.
Here are today’s Sunday Science links, for stories you may have missed in the mainstream media.
Today’s featured image is that iconic mammal the snow leopard, which has been downgraded from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of endangered species. Its fellow mammal, the Christmas island pipistrelle bat, was not so fortunate: it is the first Australian mammal in 50 years to be declared extinct. [Leopard photo Vincent J Musi/NGC, from Nature.]
Defects in next generation solar cells, made of perovskite, can be repaired using light. Perovskite is abundant and cheap, but tends to have flaws which affect its efficiency in solar cells, so this is an important step forward.
A new analysis indicates that achieving the target of limiting global warming to 1.5C set by the Paris Agreement might be more feasible than thought (if still tough going). For a far less technical report on this, there’s a decent news article here.
A dinosaur called Chilesaurus may be the missing link between the plant eaters and theropod dinosaurs, which includes the famous carnivorous ones such as T. rex.
Finally, a sweet little piece on the science in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, including a couple of neat examples of fiction predicting scientific advances (although the psychology stuff I think is a bit unconvincing). Trivia: Holmes is the only fictional character to be made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.