ICYMI: This Week’s Science News (8/5/17)


By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
There’s new research being conducted every day and plenty of studies breaking new ground each week! Educate yourself and see all the great stuff that’s happening in the world! ICYMI, here’s some of the science news from the last week!

Busy bees!

Most bees are hard workers, moving and interacting with one another within the hive. Interestingly, there are some honeybees within hives that do little and seem to avoid interaction with their fellow bee residents. Studying honeybees in two behavioral tests and looking at their genes, it was discovered that the honeybees that showed this “antisocial” behavior share specific genes traits as humans with autism. Humans and bees are very different species, but the opportunity to study the effects of animal genes that are linked to such behaviors may lead to discoveries in the human world as well!

Chow down on a “power” bar!

Finnish scientists have successfully produced food from almost nothing. Using only water, carbon dioxide, some microbes, and electricity the researchers were able to produce a single-cell protein edible. The materials placed in a bioreactor and exposed to electrolysis form a powder composed of more than 50% protein and 25% carbohydrates. The process is still on an extremely small scale, with a cup-sized bioreactor taking two weeks to produce a single gram of the food, but if efforts can be realistically expanded to larger-scale production one day, the power food might one day be used to feed those suffering from famine and compensate for areas in which agriculture is limited or impossible!

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

WASP-121b is a “Hot Jupiter” planet found outside our solar system which can be found approximately 900 light-years from our own planet Earth. In a new discovery, scientists have detected water molecules surrounding the planet, providing evidence of a possible stratosphere. WASP-121b is not likely to support alien life or a human colony, but it does allow scientists to research and hopefully better understand stratospheres both within and outside our solar system.

Just a spoonful of sugar…

Over the past few years, there have been several studies looking at the link between mood and sugar consumption. A new study has analyzed a possible link between sugar intake and new and recurrent mood disorders. Long story short, it looks like the men and women studied who consumed more sugar were more likely to develop a new mood disorder (where they previously did not have one) or have a recurrence of a mood disorder within five years than their counterparts who consumed less sugar. The study also tried to look at the direction of the link, trying to establish a causal relationship. They found that the amount of sugar consumed by subjects did not change if their mental health status changed, leading the researchers to believe that sugar intake may contribute to moods, but moods may not affect sugar intake. There’s many other links to study, but you might want to put the donut down and eat an apple now and again!

Wanted: Facebook AI Translator

Google’s DeepMind AI project isn’t the only AI to be making great strides. Facebook researchers have been working on an AI system that would hopefully make more efficient digital communication. The team created several AI systems and then allowed them to communicate with each other, speaking in English… at first. The systems apparently thought that English wasn’t efficient enough for them. It looks like they continued to use English vocabulary, but the systems had designed their own language rules, unlike any other existing language. Ultimately, the researchers have pulled the plug on the AI, reporting that they wanted the AI to speak in English so users online would understand them, and the language evolved too quickly to keep up with. (Or maybe they were just afraid of the AI starting a robot revolution?)

Zoom zoom.

A future transportation technology may be Hyperloop, a system in which passengers will ride in a pod inside a vacuum tube at ridiculously high speeds. (Imagine that canister sucked up the tube at the bank drive-thru.) One of the companies trying to make the technology a reality is Hyperloop One. This week they declared they have successfully carried out one of their fastest tests yet! They report successfully sending a magnetically levitating pod down a 500 meter long tube at 192 miles per hour, a significant improvement on their test in July where they hit only 69 miles per hour. How much faster can they go and how does the competition measure up? We’ll have to wait and see!

To be continued…

Last week, it was reported that successful gene editing was done on human embryos for the first time in the United States at Oregon Health and Science University. Details were finally published this week. The experiment involved cutting out the genes that cause an inherited heart condition. The work is more basic than many believe, not changing or modifying genes, but simply cutting out a malfunctioning gene that is the cause of the heard disease. There are many ethical considerations tied to genetic research, so we don’t know where things will go just yet, but the results of the OHSU study are intriguing and the first of its kind in the United States.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood saw a future in which successful reproduction has become a rarity. The results of the first sperm count and quality review on a large-scale have surprised scientists. Sperm concentration in males from western countries on several continents have decreased more than 50% in the last 40 years alone, and the trend does not appear to be slowing. Men are still producing approximately 50 million sperm per ejaculate and it only takes 1 to fertilize an egg, so it’s not a crisis just yet. However, the decline in sperm count of western men should not go unacknowledged and causes are well worth future research.

Memories are lost but not forgotten.

Researchers at Columbia University conducted an Alzheimer’s disease study with mice and made an interesting discovery! Our current understanding of the disease assumes that the neurodegenerative disease destroys memories, but this new study hints that the brain’s recall abilities may actually be the affected mechanism. Using a blue laser light on the brains of the affected mice helped the mice to recall memories from the correct location, where they previously were unable to remember and recall from the correct part of the brain. Whether this therapy will translate to human brains is research for the future, but the study is certainly an interesting development!

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