ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (6/16/17)


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

Replacing and growing heads, spooky action, and crazy color vision are just the start. You can also become a citizen of Asgardia. If none of this sounds familiar, you’ve got some catching up to do! So ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!

Don’t lose your head!

Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has made no secret of his goal to complete the world’s first human head transplant. In the meantime, he is working on smaller projects to make steps toward the ultimate goal. In his latest published paper, Canavero severed the spinal cords of mice and then reconnected them using special biological glue (polyethylene glycol). He has claimed in his paper that the mice recovered motor functions and their ability to walk less than a month after the “glue” was used. The rodents only lived for about a month, so it looks like there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome for Canavero, including ethical and legal blockages. The whole thing is starting to feel a little like scenes from Mars Attacks!

Ghosts aren’t the only spooky things in the universe!

Einstein described quantum entanglement as “spooky action at a distance.” The mysterious phenomenon involves two or more particles that link and affect one another, even at long distances. Scientists have been working on quantum entanglement, hoping to one day have more effective communication systems using quantum networks. But researchers have previously only managed to link particles and split them apart by 100 kilometers. However, a new study has managed to distribute two entangled particles more than 1200 kilometers apart! That’s a new record!

No x-ray vision? That’s okay. Launch a satellite!

While America and other countries have been looking to the stars for some time, China has been a little behind the curve…until this week! On Thursday, China launched their first astronomical satellite into space, mounted with three x-ray telescopes pointing at different angles. X-rays of events like black holes and neutron stars don’t penetrate Earth’s atmosphere, so the only way to get a look is to send instruments outside the atmosphere to observe such events and send back data. Now China’s space science program is making a new contribution to the astronomy world, and it’s a welcome addition!

Flatworms go to space to get ahead.

Flatworms have a superpower. They have incredible regeneration capabilities. Cut a flatworm into pieces and those pieces will grow new heads or tails (depending on where they are cut). Researchers sent some of these unique creatures to the International Space Station (ISS) to learn more about how space’s microgravity and magnetic field affect cell activity. The study on the worms, published this week, showed the worms who went to space and returned exhibited some changes. When placed in a petri dish in bright light, the space flatworms were less likely to move toward any darker portions of the space than their Earth-bound counterparts, and they also showed some different behaviors when placed in water. Most interestingly, however, was one of the astronaut worms who was cut into pieces and grew two heads (rather than a head and tail), which is an apparently rare phenomenon. When the heads were cut off, the segment grew two heads, again! There are a lot of factors to take into account, but the study should give scientists some insight about cell behavior and how those factors affect such activity.

Jupiter is an oldest child.

A new study supports the idea that the first planet of our solar system to form was gas giant Jupiter. The giant size of the planet suggests that as the solar system formed it was the first to collect material and form. By studying meteorites from a belt of space rocks in our solar system, the team behind the study also believes that the meteorites came from both the inner and outer solar system, which they theorize came to be divided early on by Jupiter’s formation. Even the atmosphere of Jupiter suggests that it was early to form, taking materials that are now less likely to be found on other planets that likely formed after. Jupiter was the first-born of the planets within the solar system, and appears to have been a big player in the formation of other planets within the system!

Malaria be gone!

A fungus that naturally kills mosquitos carrying malaria already exists in the wild. It takes some time and lots of fungal spores to work, so scientists have been working to improve the process, hoping to eliminate the threat of malaria-bearing mosquitos. The team has genetically engineered the fungus to produce toxins found in the venom of spiders and scorpions. The team has had success in creating potent strains that can kill the mosquitos with a single spore. The strain has also successfully stopped mosquitos from blood feeding. The combination has effectively reduced transmission of malaria by 90% within five days. The team is continuing tests to ensure that their methods won’t negatively affect other species and organisms, if their transgenic fungus were to be spread in an open environment. But it’s a great step forward in a disease that can kill so quickly and strikes so many down!

How do you describe a rainbow to a dog?

Humans typically have three types of cone cells in their eyes, allowing the trichromats to see about 1 million different colors. Those who suffer from color blindness often suffer because they only have 2 types of cones (much like most other mammals, such as dogs), leaving them with the ability to see only about 10,000 shades. Researchers have recently found a woman with four types of cone cells (a tetrachromat), which means she sees about 99 million more colors than the typical trichromats! The scientists believe there are other functioning tetrachromats out there who just haven’t been found yet! Imagine the ability to see colors that have no words in any language!

Become a citizen of Asgardia…

Asgardia is an organization with big plans to start a space nation. At a press conference this week in Hong Kong, Asgardia announced plans to launch a satellite this fall where citizens of the “space nation” will be able to load with their own data. They also announced hopes to have an Earth-orbiting residential space station (and a moon station) in the future. The company doesn’t stop there! They released a national calendar and hope to form their own Parliament of Asgardia in the next six months. (With 10,000 supporters, you can become a member of Parliament yourself!) Beginning June 18, voting will also kick off for the space nation’s constitution, flag, and national anthem. If you want to be an Asgardian, you can sign on! Just head to the website and sign up!

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