Archive for October, 2007

The Human Cancer That Became a New Species

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | October 31, 2007 7:20 am

This story is almost too strange. Some cells taken from a woman’s cervical cancer continued to divide and live on, indefinitely, through today and—to all appearances—far into the future. She died 56 years ago, yet the cells from her body are still used widely in cancer research and also helped in the cure for the polio vaccine.

The oddest thing about it is that the cells do everything an organism needs to do (e.g., self-propagate, consume, excrete) so scientists say it’s a new species—that evolved from this woman’s cancer cells while in her body! I think this is exceedingly strange.

The Wikipedia article has a bunch of good links, if you don’t quite believe it (as I didn’t, at first).

The Next Miracle Antibiotic: Clay?

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | October 29, 2007 5:56 am

The Independent reports on the discovery of potent antibiotic powers in a combination of smectite and illite excavated from French volcanic mountains—yes, clay that can cure disease. In lab tests, the magic muck wiped out 99 percent of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the same stuff that was recently revealed to kill more Americans than HIV.

Thus far researchers have little idea why it works: “We have multiple working hypotheses,” says Arizona State clay expert Lynda Williams—which is a good scientist’s way of saying, they have no frickin’ idea what’s going on. More puzzlement: “Our primary hypothesis is that the clay minerals transfer elements, not yet identified, to the bacteria that impede their metabolic function.”

An interesting alternate hypothesis is that the clay kills by some physical mechanism, as does bleach or ammonia. That would be most welcome news, because it means bacteria would not easily evolve resistance.

How Snorting Can Make You More Popular

By Jessica Ruvinsky | October 26, 2007 4:23 pm

Snorting restores social graces, scientists find. A nasal spray of a mind-altering antibiotic called D-cycloserine can help cure chronic shyness. People also sniff the drug (which was supposed to fight tuberculosis) to combat a crippling fear of spiders.

Now if we could only cure tuberculosis…

Little Fish Eats Big Fish. Explodes. Dies.

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | October 24, 2007 2:25 pm

A fish called a great swallower lived up to its name when it tried to eat a snake mackerel that was a full four times its own length off the coast of the Cayman Islands. A passing fisherman spotted the weird fish-in-a-fish and brought it back to Cayman Department of the Environment.

The Closest Humankind Has Come to the Star Trek Food Replicator

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | October 24, 2007 12:40 pm

Domino’s gives people making online delivery orders unprecedented control to control how their pizzas are made—control that includes exactly how much toppings, cheese, and sauce to put on; and control over which side of the pizza to put them on. Not just one side versus the other, but actually over the “left” side and the “right” side.

So Steven over at The Sneeze decided to try out the food replicator (he belies his Star Trek naivete by calling it a “synthesizer”) with a pretty standard pizza order and a rather non-standard one. You have to go over there to check out the results. Suffice it to say that we need to make a lot of progress with 3D printers before we can get our tea (Earl Grey, hot) like Captain Picard.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

The AP Tightens Its Stranglehold on Bad Science Headlines

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | October 23, 2007 11:04 am

This week’s entry: “Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere Increasing.” Thanks for that press-stopper. The article is also somewhat confused, juggling “emissions” and “carbon dioxide in the atmosphere” as though they were the same.

Anyway, the surprising—and especially spooky—thing about the new study certainly seems to be that the oceans and land are re-absorbing less carbon dioxide than they used to. This decrease in “global sink efficiency” may come from increasing wind speed and increasing ocean temperatures. “A warm Coke has less fizz than a cold Coke,” says meteorologist Alan Robock in the AP article.

For a much better take, check out the Scientific American article.

How Do Americans Die?

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | October 16, 2007 3:29 am

The LA Times has compiled a list of how death arrives for Americans in different age groups. I take it this is publicly available information, but it’s interesting to see it all laid out so directly. Despite much-touted decreases in cancer deaths, rampaging tumors still kill hundreds of thousands of people, all the way from infants to ancients.

Two-Faced Moon Shows its True Colors

By Clara Moskowitz | October 11, 2007 11:40 am

Saturn’s moon Iapetus is the yin-yang moon. Half of its surface is dark as coal, while the other side is blindingly pale. Astronomers have been perplexed by the moon’s two-faced nature since its discovery 335 years ago. But researchers have just solved the mystery thanks to pictures from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which recently flew closer to the moon than any mission has ever been.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Aliens Therefrom

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