What’s the News: Scientists have known for a while that if you put harmful bacteria into outer space, they tend to get even more harmful. Since that discovery, researchers have been itching to know if the zero gravity and radiation of space will have similar effects on beneficial bacteria. With Monday’s launch of Endeavor, scientists can finally try to answer that question: alongside the astronauts, NASA launched the first ever space-faring cephalopod, along with the bioluminescent microbe with which it has a symbiotic relationship, to see if their relationship can stand the stresses of space travel. “This is the first [study] to look at beneficial bacteria” in space, lead researcher Jamie Foster told New Scientist.
What’s the News: Tiny turbines that fit inside human arteries could produce enough energy to power pacemakers and other implantable devices, according to preliminary tests by Swiss researchers presented at a conference earlier this month. The turbine would essentially serve as a tiny generator, gathering power from blood rushing by after it’s been pumped by the heart. This power source could be a boon for medical devices that currently require batteries or cables for power. Unfortunately, the turbulence these turbines create would likely cause blood clots, which could lead to heart attack or stroke—an extremely dangerous side effect that makes having to replace a battery not seem so bad.
What’s the News: A new type of ear bud hacks the ear’s reflexes, reducing its natural damping so you don’t have turn the volume up so high to get your jam on. It also cuts down on all that unsightly “leathering” on your eardrum…
Not so helpful after all.
What’s the News: City lights are more than a pretty sight from the air—they’re also a good way to tell how a country’s economy is doing, some economists say. Over the past decade, deducing a country’s gross domestic product from how much it glows in nighttime satellite images, a factor called luminosity, has become quite the econ fad. But as clever as it sounds, luminosity isn’t as helpful as you’d think, a new study says. Only in countries that are such a disaster that gathering reliable statistics is impossible is the glow a better approximation of GDP than you’d get with traditional measures.
Virions from a smallpox vaccine
What’s the News: Global health officials are expected to decide whether to destroy the world’s last caches of smallpox at the 64th World Health Assembly this week. The disease was declared eradicated by the World Health Organization in 1979, but two small stores of the virus remain: one at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and one in a Russian government lab.
Now, public health officials are divided on how to ensure that the disease stays eradicated. Some say our best bet is to keep the remaining samples of the virus safe and continue to study them, then destroy them at a later date; others say the safest course is to destroy them now, once and for all.
What’s the News: Around 600 million years ago, Earth’s first multicellular moving animals evolved. Known as the Ediacaran fauna, these early slug- and worm-like creatures fed off microbial mats that covered the ocean floor. For years, scientists have debated how these animals kept themselves from suffocating because the ocean at the time is thought to have had less than half of its current oxygen levels. Looking at modern environments that are also oxygen-depleted, scientists have discovered that oxygen levels spike near biomats, plant-like bacteria that pump out oxygen as a waste product of photosynthesis. “We think that animals used the small but highly oxygenated zones as oases,” lead author Murray Gingras told Nature, giving the world’s first complex animals the kick-start they needed to evolve. “This is a really neat solution to an old problem,” Ediacaran researcher Jim Gehling told New Scientist. Read More
What’s the News: Fitting in is a perennial problem for almost everybody, especially immigrants and their children (for more, see The Joy Luck Club). And anxiety about food is definitely part of it: when your friends think your mom’s home cooking is weird, well, maybe you’ll just pretend you don’t like it either. In fact, maybe you’ll eat more French fries and pizza than is entirely healthy to fit in, something that might explain why newly arrived immigrants balloon to the rest of the U.S. population’s levels of obesity in just 15 years. In a study designed to see how being perceived as un-American changed peoples’ food choices, scientists behaved badly and then brought out the menus.
What’s the News: Jupiter’s moon Io is more volcanically active than any other object in our solar system, releasing 30 times more heat than Earth through volcanism. It’s thought that Jupiter’s gravity pulls so hard on the moon and causes so much friction that the resulting thermal energy melts a huge amount of underground rock, feeding Io’s 400 active volcanoes.
For years, astronomers have debated whether Io’s spewing lava comes from isolated pockets of magma or a layer that spans the entire moon. Astronomers have now peered into Io’s interior for the first time, discovering that it has a global sea of magma roughly 30 miles thick. “It turns out Io was continually giving off a ‘sounding signal’ in Jupiter’s … magnetic field that matched what would be expected from molten or partially molten rocks deep beneath the surface,” lead researcher Krishan Khurana told Wired. Read More
Mouse embyronic stem cells
What’s the News: Reprogrammed stem cells—cells taken from an adult and turned back into stem cells—can be rejected by the body, at least in mice, suggests a new Nature study. Donated tissues and organs are often attacked by a patient’s immune system, since reprogrammed stem cells can be made from a patient’s own skin, researchers had hoped these cells offered a way to avoid such rejection by letting patients, in essence, donate tissue to themselves. But the new finding may be a significant setback to what is a promising line of treatment.
What’s the News: A non-invasive test that measures brain waves could help doctors better diagnose whether a patient is truly in a vegetative state, according to a preliminary study published today in Science. What’s more, the results suggest that a particular pathway of communication in the brain is disrupted in vegetative patients but not patients with somewhat less severe brain damage—which could not only improve diagnosis, but help researchers better understand these tragic conditions.