ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (7/7/17)


By: Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)

With constant news coverage of the president, you might be losing out on the great things going on in science and technology. If you’re a little behind, you can catch up right here! ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!

The recipe isn’t set in stone yet.

Modern day concrete is actually a fairly large contributor to the planet’s greenhouse gas levels, actually equaling about 5% of the human-caused emissions. Some of this comes from the heat of the kilns used for making the concrete, and some comes from the carbon dioxide released when limestone is heated. But taking a look back in time at cement made by the Romans shows that their cement was strong, durable, and less toxic to the planet. Researchers have used X-ray beams on an ancient Roman pier to identify various minerals and crystallization of the cement, hoping to find the secret recipe the Romans used. If they can correctly identify the right mix, we might take some steps forward in cement processing!

I’ve got PMS brain.

There are still misconceptions surrounding the menstrual cycles of women, and one of those has been that menstruation affects women’s cognitive abilities. A study published this week, however, found no link between cognitive performance and menstrual cycles. While the sample size was less than 100 women from Germany and Switzerland, which is a limitation, and other factors may still play a role, the study was still larger than many other similar studies conducted. Further study is needed, but this study still marks a step forward in the scientific world explaining the effects of hormones and menstruation, rather than adhering to anecdotal evidence.

Anyone want to play probiotic beer pong?

Anyone who has consumed probiotic products knows that most of them are dairy-based. However, a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore have managed to make a beer containing probiotics! The beer is a sour and tart tasting product that takes about a month to brew, but has a pleasant 3.5% alcohol content. While the jury is still out about the immunity boosting abilities of the probiotic beer, it looks to improve gut health. Not that anyone really needs another excuse to drink beer…

Iceberg ahead!

The ice shelf of Western Antarctica is within months of letting loose one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. On Wednesday, satellite images revealed that an iceberg about the size of Delaware is close to breaking off, with only five kilometers remaining between the end of the cracked ice and the ocean. While that sounds like quite a distance, the iceberg itself will likely be about 6,600 square kilometers in size, making a small five kilometers a bare thread keeping the iceberg connected to the greater mass of Antarctica. When the iceberg eventually makes a break for it, its progress will have to be monitored to ensure the safety of water vessels nearby! (No one wants a Titanic incident again, after all.)

Alzheimer protein photo op in progress…

Abnormal tau protein deposits have been connected to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. A new study in the UK used cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to get images of extracted tau protein filaments to give a first time close up look of the protein and its chemical composition. A deeper knowledge of the protein filaments at the molecular level may not only help researchers learn about their abnormal development, but may also help them in developing targeted drugs for treatment!

Research on mice needs a fairy godmother.

Mice are a valuable resource for researchers, particularly in the field of developing medicine. While there are many biological similarities, sometimes successes on tests with mice are complete failures with humans. In the case of type 2 diabetes studies, researchers now have a solid reason why that’s the case! Long story short, there are differences in the G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) on insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. It’s estimated that about 40% of prescription medications focus on latching on to this kind of receptor; further studies on new medications that target these receptors suffer from the differences between human and rodent receptors. Thus, what works with mice doesn’t always work with humans! Knowledge of these differences may help researchers change their approach and find success!

The Tick is an appropriate superhero after all.

Ticks are able to feed on their hosts for several days due to the proteins in their saliva that prevent an inflammatory response from the body. Scientists now think they might be able to put that tick spit to good use. A research team from the University of Oxford is working to find the ideal tick saliva proteins and a way to convert them into a possible treatment for diseases associated with inflammation, such as myocarditis. There’s a long way to go with this research, but the team hopes to find a positive use for the ticks with the bad reputation.

Robocop has a sweet ride.

Dubai has some ambitious plans for its police force, hoping to use robots for 25% of its police force by 2030. Already using a police bot to monitor tourist areas, the city hopes to have a 10 foot tall model to be controlled by a human officer in its frame in the future. By the end of the year, Dubai hopes to have new “robocars” operating on the streets for surveillance. Able to operate autonomously or with a human operated remote control, the cars have a drone (to get to places human officers can’t), thermal imaging, license-plate reading technology, and facial recognition. The aim is to supplement the police force in Dubai to help with resources and manpower. The future is now in Dubai!

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