Ripped From the Journals: The Biggest Discoveries of the Week

By Eliza Strickland | November 13, 2009 6:18 pm

PNAS-11-10Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 10
The week’s most sensational news came from a PNAS study which heralded the repair of damaged rabbit penises by rebuilding crucial erectile tissue. The researchers proved that they could engineer new corpora cavernosas, the column of tissue that engorges with blood during male arousal, and the male rabbits demonstrated that their new parts worked just fine by mating and fathering offspring. While the technique isn’t ready for humans yet, researchers have high hopes that they’ll soon be able to help men who need penile reconstructive surgery. Spammers presumably have high hopes that they’ll soon be able to fill your inbox with messages touting the rabbit penis cure.

Human Reproduction, November 10
Since we have two stories that related to male sexual health, we’ll get them both out of the way. Then we’ll move on, we swear. This second study raised yet more troubling questions about the plastic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) that is found in everything from baby bottles to canned food linings. The researchers tracked the sexual health of more than 600 Chinese factory workers exposed to high levels of BPA, and found the men were four times more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and seven times as likely to have difficulty with ejaculation than factory workers who weren’t exposed to the chemical. Previous animal research has linked BPA to a host of other health problems, including fertility problems, cancer, and diabetes; this U.S. government-funded study seems to strengthen the case for taking the chemical off the market.

Nature-11-12Nature, November 12
The source of human language has tantalized scientists since our species began asking why we’re different from our primate cousins. At the genetic level, researchers are starting to home in on the mechanisms that give rise to speech. The key gene FOXP2 was first identified in the 1990s when researchers found a family with inherited language problems and a mutation that interfered with the gene. Now, a new study has determined that the human version of the FOXP2 gene differs in just 2 of its 740 amino acids from the chimpanzee version of the gene. Could those two changes have given us the gift of speech? Researchers say it’s possible that the changes could have had a large impact, because the FOXP2 gene acts like an orchestra conductor, and the human version controls the activity of at least 116 other genes. Another study in Nature shifts the focus from the mysteries within to the conundrums of the cosmos, astronomers staring out at the stars realized that those stars with planets contain far less of the element lithium than planet-less stars. All the lithium in the universe is thought to be leftover from the Big Bang, and in the core of stars its gradually destroyed–but it can linger on stars’ surfaces. It’s possible, astronomers say, that a star with planets loses its lithium because the planets’ gravitational tugging on the star helps mix up its interior.

Science-11-13Science, November 13
In yet another confirmation that global warming’s impacts are already upon us, a new study examined the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and found that since 2000 there’s been an accleration in the rate of melting. The ice loss is a combination of icebergs breaking away and meltwater runoff from the surface. The fate of the Greenland ice sheet is of enormous interest to humanity, because if the entire sheet melted it would raise ocean levels by 20 feet. Nothing so extraordinary is expected in the short term, but Greenland’s steadily trickling meltwater is a reminder that we have a limited amount of time to tackle this problem before our planet reaches a tipping point.

  • Casey Craig

    I propose a genetic alteration of turritopsis nutricula to eat garbage and clean the oceans of inorganic substances.

  • Casey Craig

    Either we do something to reverse the problem of our pollutive ways or my nightmare of standing on a mountain with a flooded terrain will become a reality.

  • Harley Lauren

    In the future all of us will need to buy water and air that is clean. We will pay to see trees, flowers and plant life just as we pay admission to see animals in a zoo. We will all pay extra to breathe “natural oxygen” produced from trees and plants.
    The sky will not be blue or filled with clouds – in fact we will need to explain to our children what clouds were. We will compare them to “nuclear clouds” and the bowls of dust. None of us will see the moon or the sun in those days ahead.
    The sky above will not seem limitless like it does to us now. There will be no star gazing. Our sky will consist of a solid yellow haze, a backdrop that does not change except to become darker at night. In the daytime it will simply brighten as if being lit up from behind.

  • Harley Lauren

    Only then will we look back on what we have above us, around us, and below with love respect and appreciation. When we finally struggle to till the earth, when we fertilize nurture and cultivate with patient tender loving care just to grow a few small weeds, then and only then will we wish with all our hearts we had done things differently.
    And when they ask us we will try to hide our shame. We will tell our children there was nothing we could do to save the earth. We will pretend it was out of our hands. This is our history.
    The Do-do bird is extinct because it was an exceptionally friendly bird that walked right up to the men landing on Madagascar. Our fate also, rests in the hands of men no different than these.
    Goodbye my friends.

  • badnicolez

    Hey, Harley Lauren, the dodo was on Mauritius, not Madagascar. Stop wasting our time with your propagandist scare-mongering. I was told as a child that all rainforests would be completely gone in less than 20 years (this was more than 20 years ago) and that nuclear winter would kill us all, neither of which happened (obviously). Get over yourself and at least get the one actual example you use right.

  • carmen

    people aef getting way too tense about globel warming even on other planets you can see polor ice swell and fade sometimes by a lot it happened on earth before humans existed on a global scale we are too puny to change the weather and much of the world dont drive anyway.


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