What’s the News: Anxiety. Insomnia. Hallucinations. Methamphetamine’s effects on the human brain are well documented, but researchers know relatively little about how the drug affects the body on the molecular scale. Looking at fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), scientists have detailed how meth disrupts chemical reactions associated with generating energy, creating sperm cells, and regulating muscles. Most interestingly, they discovered that meth-exposed fruit flies may live longer when they eat sugar. “We know that methamphetamine influences cellular processes associated with aging, it affects spermatogenesis, and it affects the heart,” says University of Illinois entomologist Barry Pittendrigh. “One could almost call meth a perfect storm toxin because it does so much damage to so many different tissues in the body.”
What’s the News: Researchers have found that whether people stick with advice they were given, even when their own experience contradicts it, is linked to their genes, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Neuroscience. These findings suggest a possible genetic component of confirmation bias, the tendency to focus on new information that agrees with what you already know, and ignore information that contradicts your views.
Selfish genes could help destroy mosquitoes’ ability to carry malaria.
What’s the News: Many scientists have played with the idea of creating a genetically modified mosquito that won’t transmit malaria, which kills about 850,000 people a year, and releasing it into the wild. But in the face of the millions of mosquitoes out there that do ferry malaria around, how would the trait spread fast enough to make a difference?
Now, scientists have developed a way to cause a “selfish” gene to spread to more than half of a mosquito population over just a few generations, suggesting a method to quickly and broadly disrupt genes required for carrying malaria.
Swapping chromosomes among eggs could keep
embryos from inheriting genetic diseases.
What’s the News: Babies with three parents and fewer genetic diseases might soon be possible: A UK national health panel has found that techniques for swapping chromosomes between eggs so offspring don’t inherit disease-causing mutations from their mother’s mitochondria are not dangerous. The techniques, which have been tested in mice, monkeys, and human cells, still need to be studied more before making the transfer to the clinic, though, and as with all genetic engineering techniques, there’s a complex ethical maze ahead of researchers.
What’s the News: Researchers have developed the fastest yet self-healing polymer: The new class of materials dubbed “metallo-supramolecular polymers” heal after only one minute under UV light even when they’re repeatedly cut. This could eventually lead to self-repairing floor varnishes, automotive paints, and other applications. University of Illinois at Urbana researchers Nancy Sottos and Jeffrey Moore say these these healable polymers “offer an alternative to the damage-and-discard cycle” that is rampant in our consumer society, and could pave the way for products “that have much greater lifespans than currently available materials.” (You can see the process below in a press video from Case-Western Reserve University.)
Nephila jurassica, with a 5mm scale bar
What’s the News: Researchers have unearthed the largest fossilized spider yet, announced in a study online today in Biology Letters. The fossil, a Jurassic Period ancestor of the modern orb-weaver spider, gives scientists a glimpse not only into the evolutionary history of orb-weaver spiders, but how these ancient arachnids might have impacted the evolution of insect species that could be snared in the webs.
What’s the News: Scientists have developed a new process that condenses diesel fuel exhaust into water. If implemented on the battlefield, it would allow soldiers to produce drinkable water from burnt fuel in tanks, generators, and Humvees, freeing them from carrying quite so many heavy water-filled containers. “Theoretically, one gallon of diesel should produce one gallon of water,” project leader Melanie Debusk told MSNBC.
What’s the News: Large, corral-like stone stone structures found in the Middle East, called desert kites, were used to capture entire herds of gazelle for slaughter 6,000 years ago, suggests a study published online yesterday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. While historians and archaeologists have long suspected the structures may have been used to round up and kill gazelles, this study, which found and dated thousands of gazelle bones in close proximity to several desert kites, provides physical evidence to corroborate the idea and an estimate of when the kites were used. (A labeled aerial photo of a desert kite can be found here.)
UPDATE: The blood tests are in, and it looks like the women instructed to take the pills were not popping them. Only a quarter of those who got infected had any Truvada in their blood. This suggests that the problem isn’t the drug’s effectiveness, but rather compliance on the part of the population.
What’s the News: A much-anticipated trial in African women of an HIV drug found to be effective in preventing infection in men has washed out—researchers announced today that women taking Truvada were no more likely to evade HIV infection than women taking a placebo.
The result is especially disappointing because Truvada, which is an oral pill combining two drugs, emtricitabine and tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, has been shown to be 90% effective in preventing infection in gay men who took it religiously. Read More
What’s the News: In long space flights, such as a mission to Mars, astronauts will have more time during which they could get injured or sick. And the same apparently goes for the medicine aboard spaceships: According to a NASA-funded study, medicines degrade faster in space than they do on Earth. As the researchers conclude in their paper, “this information can facilitate research for the development of space-hardy pharmaceuticals and packaging technologies.”