ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (4/02/17)

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By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
 
This week, it seems like a lot of movie and television realities might just become reality. Life seems to imitate art, and science seems to be imitating fiction. Maybe HR helping the team on The Flash isn’t such a far-fetched idea, after all. If you want to see for yourself, keep reading! ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!
 

Tetris Therapy: Coming to an ER near you

Researchers have found that an old beloved video game might actually have a positive impact on emotional health!
 
In a previous study, Emily Holmes and a team found that playing Tetris had the potential to reduce “intrusive memories” in individuals who watched a traumatic video. In a study published this week, Holmes and the team wanted to see if similar results could be achieved in the “real world.” Individuals at an ER in Oxford who witnessed a car crash (driver, passenger, pedestrian, etc.) were randomly assigned to play Tetris for 10 minutes, or not. The study showed that those who played Tetris within 6 hours of the crash had 62% fewer flashbacks of the event than those who didn’t during the following week.
 
The team hope to continue similar studies with video games and trauma. But hey, turns out video games can be good for you!
 

Chalk it up to bad luck.

A controversial 2015 study showed that sometimes cancer is due to bad luck. A recent study by a team at Johns Hopkins University supports the same conclusion, with findings showing that 66% of cancer mutations are simply caused by mistakes made when cells divide and copy their DNA. This is not to say that other factors don’t play a role, such as the effects of smoking and lung cancer. However, this result may help some people understand their tragic situation, without adding guilt to the mix, and may help others understand why it happened to them, even if they lived the healthiest lifestyle imaginable.
 
Most importantly, the research may help research focus on biological processes affecting the DNA copying mistakes that occur when cells divide and potentially find a way to prevent those mutations.
 

Brains!

The largest brain cancer study ever has been completed by researchers in Europe and the U.S. The study was designed to study differences in the human genome to determine possible causes of glioma, a type of cancer in the glial cells in the brain. Glioma is a particularly nasty cancer, with approximately 95% of its victims dying within a 5 year window. By looking at differences in the genome in the massive study, scientists hope to find ways to detect this type of cancer earlier, and by determining causes perhaps fine tune treatments as well.
 
Every little piece of information can help, and scientists only go big. They never go home!
 

Dieting vampires, the Splenda of blood is coming.

Remember when Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill were in a vampire movie where they had to develop artificial blood because there was a shortage of humans and real blood? Well, once again real life is imitating art, it seems! Researchers at the University of Bristol and NHS Blood and Transplant have developed a technique using stem cells to mass produce red blood cells.
 
The process is expensive, but if the process proves to be consistently successful, it would be a viable alternative for patients with rare blood types with significantly smaller reserves available for use from the blood banks. 
 
Is anyone concerned that maybe vampires are real and they’re finding semi-vegetarian options for dinner time? No? Just legitimate science? Either way, the process is a step in a good direction for the health care community.
 

Let’s Benjamin Button these mice!

As we age, the DNA in our cells becomes damaged. Cells die, turn cancerous, or essentially become dormant. While the dormancy was once believed to be harmless, it turns out the cells actually play in role in chemicals and molecules that cause problem with the remaining healthy cells of the body.
 
After 4 years, researchers in the Netherlands have found a peptide that kills these dormant cells while leaving healthy ones alone. The treatment seemed to restore function of some organs in aging mice, missing fur grew back, and the mice were able to run twice as fast as their non-treated counterparts.
 
The team hopes to continue the study with mice and move on to human subjects in the future, to see if similar results are achieved. Live longer and healthier and see ALL the Marvel movies in Phase 19.
 

Spare no expense, find a GIANT dinosaur print!

University of Brisbane paleontologists have found the largest dinosaur print. Ever. Discovered within a region of Australia where 21 different types of dinosaur prints have been found (ranging from predatory to armored dinosaurs and other plant eaters), the new print is almost 6 feet in length (5’9”)!
 
Australia’s “Jurassic Park” region shows that it’s not just modern day spiders and snakes that are bigger there. It turns out that the dinosaurs were humongous too!
 

Don’t break orbit, break a record instead.

The U.S. Air Force has a space plane orbiting Earth. The X-37B has spent 680 days orbiting Earth, breaking the record of 674 days set with the OTV-3 (their previous orbital test vehicle). How much longer will it be up there, circling? What’s happening up there? Well, it’s one of those “tell you, kill you” situations. But we at least know records are being broken, so we’re in the outer circle of trust, at least. Right?
 

Shhhh! The sun is sleeping!

Starting on March 7, NASA observed no sunspots for a 15 day period. This is the longest amount of time without sunspots being observed since April 2010. Don’t worry! It turns out this quiet period is normal and expected, with the sun going through an eleven-year cycle between solar maximum (lots of sun spots) and minimum (fewer spots). This observation illustrates the sun drifting toward the minimum of its cycle.
 
What does this mean? It means more cosmic rays hitting Earth, but less particles hitting the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to aurorae being a little less impressive and varied in color.
 

Sheldon Cooper isn’t the only physicist studying humor.

Anyone who has watched The Big Bang Theory knows that Sheldon Cooper struggles with understanding lots of social conventions and cues, and jokes often evade him. He once spent an entire episode trying to discover what makes jokes funny and design the perfect joke, mathematically.
 
It turns out real researchers tried to study humor by using mathematical generalizations from quantum mechanics. Essentially, they broke down the factors of joke telling, such as who was speaking, the surrounding environment, who was listening, relationships between listener and speaker, etc. to evaluate jokes and the inspiration for humor.
 
Who said what you learned in physics class in high school couldn’t be applied to real life?
 

Vulcans bleed green because their hearts are made of spinach!

Spinach leaves can be made into human heart tissue. No, it’s not just a ploy to get you to eat vegetables. It’s the real deal. Vascular structures are not easy to create from scratch. But researchers have found that if plant cells are stripped away from the spinach leaf, leaving the vascular structures, blood and other bodily fluids can be pumped through the structures. This development could help scientists grow heart tissue to repair damaged areas of the blood-pumping organ.
 
Maybe Popeye was onto something!
 

Lungs aren’t just balloons for the body.

It’s possibly time to change the textbooks. A team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have discovered that bone marrow is not the only producer of all our blood components. While previous studies have shown that the lungs produce some of the body’s platelets, the new study seems to show the lungs producing most of the body’s platelets.
 
It seems like this is something we probably should already know, but the new information is due to a new technology in which a protein producing bioluminescence is inserted into the genome of mice. This caused the platelets in the mice to glow green as they circulated, allowing the researchers to watch the platelets’ paths in real time. This is how they discovered the surprising mass population of platelets in lung tissue.
 
So bone marrow and the lungs seems to be working together to create platelets for the body’s blood supply. Further study is needed to see if human lungs act the same as those of the mice. Further studies could also determine if treatments of issues like inflammation of the lungs will need to be altered to be more effective.


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