biology, medicine, Science, science news, SF and science, Space, Sunday Science Stories

Sunday Science 18/03/18

Lots of interesting stuff in this week’s Sunday Science, with syncing brains, false news, pets and depression, Jovian cyclones, predicted futures for the oceans, and more besides. Continue reading

biology, Developmental biology, Organ transplantation, Science, science news, Sunday Science Stories

Sunday Science 18/02/2018

Welcome to this week’s Sunday Science, with self-reproducing crayfish, breakthroughs in developmental biology, the quantum internet, and cleaning.

A big story that’s just hit the mainstream news: scientists have managed to grow sheep embryos containing human cells: 1/10,000 of the sheep embryo’s cells were human, after 28 days of development. This offers the potential of radically improving transplants, and builds on the group’s previous success with pig embryos, but with tenfold efficiency.

An invasive crayfish spreading through Madagascar is a recent hybrid species that reproduces through parthenogenesis – as in, without mating, with the unfertilised egg developing into an adult by itself.

Researchers have found a way to artificially treat wood,compressing it in a way that substantially increases its strength and stiffness and offers more engineering possibilities for this sustainable (when managed) material.

The axolotl genome has been sequenced (open access: technical). The Mexican salamander, as it is also known, is an important model in developmental biology, with scientists keen to understand how it can regenerate it’s limbs. Already the genome has thrown up a lot of information and a few surprises: it lacks a key gene, Pax3, that is essential in other vertebrates.

Still on the subject of developmental biology: scientists are attempting to create a “human developmental cell atlas” – mapping the development of humans from embryos at a single cell level (open access, bit technical). This is in conjunction with the Human Cell Atlas, here, and made possible by modern molecular methods that allow us to minutely examine which genes are active in which cells.

A nice piece on the future of the (potential) quantum internet, long theorised by both science fiction authors and scientists.

And finally: women who do lots of cleaning at home have a greater risk of decline in lung function. Men don’t, apparently, so clearly they should be doing all the cleaning!

Featured image

Part of an experiment to investigate diamond-based systems as quantum-internet nodes at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Credit: Marcel Wogram for Nature

biology, Climate change, medicine, News, Science, science fiction, science news, Sunday Science Stories

Sunday Science 04/02/18

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):


Image Credit

Featured image: Jedimentat44/flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

biology, cancer, evolution, medicine, Science, science news, Sunday Science Stories

Sunday Science 21/01/18

In this edition of Sunday science, wearable tech to monitor babies, giant bats, peregrine falcons, new blood tests for cancer, and working out how Alzheimer’s disease progresses.

The terminal attack trajectories of peregrine falcons are described by the same feedback law used by visually guided missiles. Or perhaps more accurately, since the birds were here first, the missiles use the same law. Open access, but there’s a less technical Science Daily version here.

Sussex University physicists have designed a new form of wearable tech which is small and unobtrusive, which would enable you to easily remotely monitor baby’s vital signs etc. They contain the most sensitive liquid-based devices, made from an affordable emulsion of graphene, water and oil.

A giant extinct bat that crawled on the ground has been described from fossils found in New Zealand.

Imaging brains with Alzheimer’s has shed light on the role of a key protein involved, tau, which seems to spread down highly connected neurons. Slowing down this process may help treat or stop the progression of the disease. Featured image: artist’s impression of the spread of tau filaments (red) throughout the brain, by Thomas Cope, via Cambridge university.

You may have seen in the mainstream news about a blood test that can be used to test for eight of the most common cancers. This works by detecting the presence of common cancer-causing mutations in certain genes. It’s exciting, but only really works effectively for very advanced cancers. You may not have seen another blood test that uses DNA methylation (reversible chemical modifications that alter how easy it is to turn a gene on or off) to detect and predict the spread of breast cancer:

And finally, in a first for me citing the journal Construction and Building Materials, how do make concrete that can heal its own cracks as they appear over time? Well, apparently, you might start by mixing fungi with it. A little experimental as yet, but a neat idea. This is paywalled, but you can read the Science Daily version here.

biology, Climate change, medicine, Robotics, Science, science news, SF and science, Sunday Science Stories

Sunday Science 07/01/18

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).

biology, evolution, Explainer, Miscellaneous, Science, science news, Sunday Science Stories

Sunday Science 03/12/17

Welcome to this week’s Sunday Science, with pterosaur eggs, scallop eyes, sponges (of the animal kind), and some very tough women.

A huge cache of fossil pterosaur eggs has been discovered in China, giving remarkable clues as to their development and lifestyle (pictured).

A long-standing argument over the whether sponges or comb jellies are the sister group of animals may have been resolved, and it looks like the sponges are it. It does sound rather obscure, but it’s an important step forward for understanding animal evolution. That link is the original article: this did make the mainstream news (link for the non-specialist).

The largest tree-planting scheme in England for 30 years has been given the green light. Over 600,000 trees will be planted in Northumberland over the next two years. Good news for our heavily deforested country, and hopefully providing habitat for the red squirrel.

Prehistoric women were strong and tough. As in, really strong and tough, with better arm strength than elite rowers, a new study has found. This isn’t just a novel finding – it’s important to understanding the heavily overlooked history of female manual labour. (A news story based on this study may be found at Daily Science News here.)

And finally, scallop eyes work like teeny tiny telescopes:


Featured image via, by Zhao Chuang.