Weekly Science News (2/6/17)


By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
It can be hard to keep up on the happenings of the science world. The studies never stop coming and the researchers never seem to quit. So ICYMI, here’s some science news from the past week!


Remember That Time Daleks Created Human-Pig Hybrids?

Scientists from the Salk Institute in California have created human-pig hybrid embryos for the first time. In the experiment, researchers injected human stem cells into pig embryos in their early stages and then the embryos were allowed to develop in the first trimester in a surrogate sow. While not the first human/animal chimera experiment, if continued successes follow, this could lead to a potential opportunity to grow appropriately sized human organs for possible transplants.
Izpisua Belmonte, a member of the research team stated, “The ultimate goal of chimeric research is to learn whether we can use stem-cell and gene-editing technologies to generate genetically-matched human tissues and organs.” The work also helps researchers better understand human embryogenesis and disease development.

“Lost Continent” Found!

If you’ve counted lately, we have seven continents on our little blue and green marble. How could we possible have lost one? Well, if you think back to 7th grade science class, you might remember that the landmasses on Earth today were a little different back in the day.
On the island of Mauritius (an island 2,000km off the SE coast of Africa), researchers have found zircon crystals that are older than the island itself (by a few billion years). The crystals are proposed to be part of an ancient microcontinent Mauritia, which might have once connected India and Madagascar.


My Twin Brother Went to Space and All I Got Are These Test Results!

Men and women have been living in the wild frontier of space for quite some time. But what isn’t always clear is what the long-term space flight does to the human mind and body. With the help of twins Scott and Mark Kelly, we know just a little more.
In an experiment conducted by NASA, Scott spent a year on the International Space Station, while his brother Mark (a former astronaut himself) remained firmly grounded on Earth. Preliminary test results have shown that Scott’s telomeres grew longer than Mark’s, which was “exactly the opposite of what we thought,” radiation biologist Susan Bailey stated. In addition to telescoping telomeres, Scott’s DNA appeared to go through less methylation.
Peer-reviewed papers on these results and more are expected later this year or next year.

Your Momma is So Old, She Might Be a Saccorhytus Coronarius!

A fossil of a creature, now called the saccorhytus coronarius, was found in sedimentary rock in China’s Shaanxi province. At 540 million years old, Saccorhytus predates early deuterostomes (a large group including vertebrates, echinoderms, and hemichordates). All deuterostomes are believed to have a common ancestor, and this fossilized creature might just be that relative.
Is That a Universal Language Translator or a Phone?

The Google Translate app has been a staple for international travelers, allowing them to navigate in Russia or find a doctor in Spain. With a new update, Google Translate’s Word Lens feature allows the user to translate the written text to your own language in real time. Before the update, this feature was operational, but only by taking a picture and then allowing the app to translate it. Now, the application works even faster, allowing translations on the spot!
Google Translate is able to do this in 52 languages without requiring an Internet connection.

An Artificial Cell and a Living Cell Walk Into a Bar…

Sheref S. Mansey and a team working at the University of Trento in Italy have designed artificial cells that are able to chemically communicate with bacteria. 
Simple life forms communicate with each other chemically, releasing certain proteins when they recognize other particular life forms (listening), and releasing their own proteins in turn (talking). Now, Mansey and the team have created artificial cells that can listen and speak, qualifying for a single-cell version of the Turing Test.

I Know You Are, But What am I?

Researchers at New York University, University of Illinois, and Princeton, recently conducted a study with 400 children and found that by the age of six, children generally associate traits such as brilliance, genius, and intelligence with males.
In the United States, only 30% of those employed in fields associated with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are female. The study found that this lopsided distribution may be a result of girls just beginning their school careers internalizing a society’s stereotypes of intelligence and brilliance. 


(The lesson here – Everyone can science. Ladies are brilliant too!)

Is That a Crab or Professor McGonagall?

Nerd spheres collide as a recently discovered crab species has been named in honor of the magical world of Harry Potter. The tiny crab hailing from Guam has been named Harryplax severus, named for the collector Harry Conley who found the crab, but also for the beloved characters of J.K. Rowling’s series. 
The crab is not the first creature of the animal kingdom to have a named based on Rowling’s world. In 2006, a dinosaur species was named Dracorex hogwartsia. A species of wasp in Thailand was named Ampulex dementor. And a spider in 2015 was named Eriovixia gryffindori.

Does That Mole Look like Texas to You?

Stanford University researchers have developed an artificial intelligence system that is able to recognize signs of skin cancer with the same degree of accuracy as human doctors. While not designed to replace a medical visit, the researchers hope the system can help in early screenings with a minimal cost to the individual.
The system uses an algorithm pulling data from known pictures of skin cancer and applying the information to new pictures presented to it. Ultimately, the team would like to be able to convert the program into an app that can be installed on smartphones. Andres Esteva, a researcher on the team stated, “Everyone will have a supercomputer in their pockets with a number of sensors in it, including a camera. What if we could use it to visually screen for skin cancer? Or other ailments?”
The researchers are continuing to fine tune the program, to ensure that before release the program does not make any false assessments.

Is Superman’s Suit Made of Graphene? Why Does He Smell Like French Fries?

Graphene is a flexible material that is 200 times stronger than steel and harder than diamonds. (Considering Superman’s suit isn’t full of holes constantly, I think we know what it’s made of now.) The material has fantastic possible applications in medicine, solar power, and electronics.
However, the problem is that graphene is a difficult material to produce, requiring extremely specific conditions within a vacuum, and a lot of money. A team of Australian scientists have found a way to create graphene outside a vacuum using cheap soybean cooking oil. This new process is faster, easier, and cheaper than previous production designs. And hey! Recycling!
There is still a search for a way to mass-produce the product, but if this goal can be reached, “The potential’s enormous,” said David Officer, a University of Wollongong graphene expert.

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