ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (5/20/17)


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!

Is that a miniature Borg ship?

An international competition to build a working satellite that could fit into a 13-foot cube and weigh no more than 64 grams led 18-year-old Rifath Shaarook to build what is, reportedly, the world’s lightest satellite. And next month NASA is going to send it on a four-hour long suborbital trip for testing. On June 21, NASA will launch the tiny cube from its facility in Virginia. Shaarook’s device will have a new kind of “on board” computer for measurements encompassed in a carbon fiber polymer frame. And most teenagers consider getting out of bed an accomplishment…

Kinko’s can’t print that just yet.

3-D printing is the talk of the town and has been for several years. The possibilities appear endless. And now 3-D printing can help produce progeny! Researchers from the Northwestern University of Chicago successfully printed ovaries for mice – and they work! The gelatin-based ovaries were implanted into mice whose own ovaries had been removed. Remarkably, the mice were able to then ovulate and even give birth to healthy pups! The ovaries also continued to keep hormone levels within appropriate ranges. While such structures haven’t been tested in humans yet, it looks like there might be hope in the future of ovaries being replaced by 3-D version that are indistinguishable from the real deal!

Brendan Fraser hated mummies, but archaeologists are having a blast!

An ancient cemetery in Tuna el-Gebel has become an exciting place to dig, as researchers exploring its halls have just discovered a catacomb plumb full of mummies! Following a small shaft underground, the corridor splits into several passageways with mummified corpses galore (along with coins, lamps, pottery, etc.). The excavations have just begun, so we don’t know exactly what to expect from the plethora of mummies, but the find is an incredibly exciting development for researchers!

You are the virus of my eye.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S. Ten percent of those with AMD have a more severe form of the disease, called wet AMD, that causes new blood vessels to grow under the retina, which then leak blood and fluid into the eye, destroying retinal cells and leaving blind spots in the victim’s vision. Some treatments exist, but they involve eye injections on a monthly basis. But researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland have found a possible single injection treatment that may stop and even reverse wet AMD. In a small study, the researchers injected a cold-like virus into the eye. The virus served as a jump start for the immune system to kick into action to stop a growth protein from working in the eye (creating the vessels and subsequent leakages). The treatment seemed to have few adverse effects, but unfortunately was ineffective in some patients because the patients had a natural immune response to the virus. This means that the researchers will need to further test their treatment on a wider population to better evaluate the treatment’s chances of success – but it’s a start!

“How-To” books aren’t all that new.

William Caxton introduced the printing press to England. He set it up in 1476 and went about producing English version classic books like Aesop’s Fables and Canterbury Tales. He also printed a priestly handbook called the Sarum Ordinal. The only set of fragments of Caxton’s particular version of this “how-to” manual are at the British Library in London…until now. A librarian at the University of Reading found a paper hidden in the archive that was a rare and previously unnoticed Caxton leaf. The page had previously been used to reinforce the spine of another book until around 1820 when it was saved from its undignified fate. The page ended up in a private collection that was eventually bought by the University of Reading where it was forgotten until the librarian found it and realized its worth. The 540-year-old page is a rare and valuable find!

You can stick that robot where the sun don’t shine!

A colonoscopy is a dreaded procedure, and the discomfort even stops many people from going in for the procedure when needed. But researchers are on the case and have designed a system they hope will reduce the discomfort of the procedure while perhaps making it even more effective. This week, a team presented the first robotic system capable of performing a standard colonoscopy. The system consists of a capsule robot guided by magnets outside the body, with a small optional tether that allows for other options during the procedure, if needed. A robot inserted the usual colonoscopy way doesn’t sound great, until you find out that the system is smaller than the usual endoscope used for the procedure. And the magnetic guidance of the robot helps avoid the physical pressure usually exerted by the physician pushing the endoscope. The scientists’ goal is to make a colonoscopy less painful and less scary, hopefully getting more people in to be screened.

You can’t buy this “statue” for home decoration.

Canada’s Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology unveiled an incredible fossil this week, and it’s unbelievable! While most fossils are usually presented as bones or skeletons, or questionable shapes in rock (to the untrained eye), this 110 million-year-old fossil of a nodosaur has no such problem. Accidentally discovered in Alberta in 2011, the 2,500-pound fossil was sent to a museum in Alberta where they found, after some scraping and examination, that the fossil was so well-preserved, it could be mistaken for a statue! There’s no guessing about the structure of the dinosaur in this case, the researchers see the dinosaur just as it was, and now the general public can go to the museum and see it too!

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