Science & Technology


Scientists have developed living muscle tissue that can heal itself

engineered muscle fiber
© Duke University
Long, colorful strands of engineered muscle fiber have been stained to observe growth after implantation into a mouse.
Scientists at Duke University announced they have developed living muscle tissue that can heal itself in an animal just as natural tissue would, raising hopes that more research will lead to self-healing muscles to help humans recover from injuries.

Biomedical engineers discovered that the test skeletal muscle developed at the Durham, North Carolina school was able to integrate into lab mice quickly, and then heal itself quickly once inside the animal. They also measured the muscle's strength by shocking it with electric pulses, discovering it was more than 10 times stronger than any previously engineered muscles, according to Quartz.

Lead researcher Nenad Bursac told the site that perhaps the most exciting development was that they were able to isolate stem cells from mouse muscle and then grow them into muscle fibers.

"We got them to grow into strongly contracting fibers," he said. "This is the first time we've seen muscle fibers contract so strongly in the lab. It was comparable to the contracting forces you'd see in an actual mouse muscle."

Possible Nova pops in Cygnus

Nova in Cygnus_1
© Stellarium
The location of the possible nova discovery in Cygnus is marked. The object is about 1.5 degrees west of the magnitude +4 star 41 Cygni. Its temporary designation is PNV J20214234+3103296. See below for detailed map.
A newly-discovered star of magnitude +10.9 has flared to life in the constellation Cygnus the Swan. Koichi Nishiyama and Fujio Kabashima, both of Japan, made their discovery yesterday March 31 with a 105mm f/4 camera lens and electronic camera.

They quickly confirmed the observation with additional photos taken with a 0.40-m (16-inch) reflector. Nothing was seen down to magnitude +13.4 in photos taken the on the 27th, but when they checked through images made on March 30 the star present at +12.4. Good news - it's getting brighter!

Solar flare eruption unusually strong, fast

An immense solar flare burst from the sun Saturday, and as of Monday there were "several coronal mass ejections in play," according to NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center.

A coronal mass ejection is a huge release --billions of tons -- of solar material and magnetic fields that, if it reaches Earth, can create beautiful auroras as well as cause problems with the power grid.

Arrow Up

Mom's harness invention allows disabled children to walk for the first time

A mother's invention that gave her wheelchair-bound son the chance to walk has been launched onto the worldwide market.

A Northern Ireland company has turned Debby Elnatan's idea for a walking harness into a product that could transform the lives of countless disabled children.

Mrs Elnatan, a music therapist, came up with the concept to help her young son Rotem, who has cerebral palsy.

She designed a support harness that would enable Rotem to stand upright and, by attaching it to herself, let parent and child take steps together.
Upsee harness

Miracle steps: From left, Claire and Daniel Smyth, Louise and Bethany Watson and Cameron and Charlotte Taylor take the Firefly Upsee for a test run

After a global search for a company to mass-produce her "Upsee", the Israeli mother chose Northern Ireland-based manufacturer Leckey, which has a long track record in making equipment for children with special needs.

Beneficial tobacco: Monoclonal antibodies derived from tobacco thwart West Nile virus

ASU researchers Qiang "Shawn " Chen and Huafang "Lily " Lai infiltrate a tobacco plant to produce monoclonal antibodies against West Nile virus.
An international research group led by Arizona State University professor Qiang "Shawn" Chen has developed a new generation of potentially safer and more cost-effective therapeutics against West Nile virus, and other pathogens.

The therapeutics, known as monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) and their derivatives, were shown to neutralize and protect mice against a lethal dose challenge of West Nile virus---even as late as 4 days after the initial infection.

"The overarching goal of our research is to create an innovative, yet sustainable and accessible, low cost solution to combat the global threat of West Nile virus," said Chen, a researcher at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute and professor in the Department of TEIM.

West Nile virus is spread by infected mosquitoes, and targets the central nervous system. It can be a serious, life-altering and even fatal disease and currently, there is no cure or drug treatment against West Nile virus, which has been widely spread across the U.S., Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean.

We may already know how we will cure death - but should we?

© David Alvarado & Jason Sussberg
Aubrey de Grey is head of a Silicon Valley-based research team bent on reversing aging just in time for de Grey to live forever.
A pair of advocates - they do legitimate research too, but their ardor is so intense, it's hard to call them scientists - believe that they will, within their lifetimes, make ours the first generation of humans to live forever.

Their quest is elegantly laid out in The Immortalists, a new documentary making its way around the film festival circuit. The Immortalists follows the triumphs and tragedies of three years in the lives of William H. Andrews and Aubrey de Grey, two men who prove just as interesting as the work they're doing. The Immortalists is really a film about death, not life, which is what makes it so fascinating.

Here's the trailer:
Bizarro Earth

Underground explorers and the shocking dimensions of the world's deepest cave

Just how far down do you think the deepest caves on the planet go? As far down as the Washington Monument is tall? How about the Eiffel Tower?

A project dubbed "The Call of the Abyss" took explorers to the deepest cave on Earth, and they ventured down to a breathtaking depth of nearly 2,200 meters - around 1.3 miles.
© Anatolia Media Group
The depth of the cave, named "Krubera-Varonya," is fascinating, but the winding length of the entire cave system also boggles the mind. Located in the Arabika Massif, of the Western Caucasus in Abkhazia, Georgia, it extends for 13.432 kilometers, or roughly 8.3 miles.

Crows solve puzzles inspired by Aesop's Fables

In an experimental recreation of "The Crow and the Pitcher" from Aesop's Fables, scientists found that crows actually do have a sophisticated understanding of water displacement.
Crows are famously clever creatures - so much so that the birds' intelligence was recognized in ancient lore. In the story of "The Crow and the Pitcher" from Aesop's Fables, a thirsty crow drops stones into narrow jar to raise the low level of water inside so he can take a drink.

Now scientists have evidence to back up that tale. New Caledonian crows actually do understand how to make water displacement work to their advantage, experiments showed. The results suggest that the birds are, at least in some respects, as smart as first-graders, according to the study.

Researchers led by Sarah Jelbert at the University of Auckland in Australia presented six crows with tubes filled with water. Inside the tubes, a worm or chunk of meat on a cork was floating, just out of reach of the crow's beak.

In front of the tubes, the researchers arranged a bunch of heavy rubber erasers that would sink, and light polystyrene objects that would float. In other variations of the experiment, the birds were presented with hollow and solid cubes.

The crows figured out that they could drop the heavy objects and the solid cubes into the tubes in order to raise the water level and get their snack, the researchers reported March 26 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Study: Even a 'small' nuclear war would destroy the world

© Getty Images
Researchers say even a limited nuclear exchange would threaten all life on Earth
With an estimated 17,000 nuclear weapons in the world, we have the power to exterminate humanity many times over.

But it wouldn't take a full-scale nuclear war to make Earth uninhabitable, reports Live Science.

Even a relatively small regional nuclear war, like a conflict between India and Pakistan, could spark a global environmental catastrophe, says a new study.

"Most people would be surprised to know that even a very small regional nuclear war on the other side of the planet could disrupt global climate for at least a decade and wipe out the ozone layer for a decade," said lead author Michael Mills, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

Researchers developed a computer model of the Earth's atmosphere and ran simulations to find out what would happen if there was a nuclear war with just a fraction of the world's arsenal.

Bioengineers create first 'designer chromosome'

designer chromosome
© Lucy Reading-Ikkanda
An artist's rendering of a new "designer chromosome" shows red and blue pins and white diamonds at the spots where scientists engineered changes to the original chromosome. Yellow sections show where material was deleted to make the synthetic version.
Scientists have managed to re-engineer a form of brewer's yeast in a way that could help with the development of new types of drugs.

Researchers have chopped, spliced and manipulated DNA to craft the first extensively modified "designer chromosome," a genetic structure carefully engineered to spur scientific discovery.

The work is being hailed as a bioengineering feat and an important step toward producing a complex organism -- in this case brewer's yeast -- with a custom-made synthetic genome, or genetic blueprint. The research paves the way for producing new medicines and even biofuels from life forms with artificial chromosomes.

Artificial chromosomes have been built before. But those were relatively faithful copies of natural chromosomes, the tiny thread-like structures made of tightly packed DNA that serve as the body's blueprints. By contrast, the new chromosome is a product of purposeful tinkering, but the yeast that carry it act like normal yeast.

Previous artificial chromosomes were "copy-and-paste, more or less. It was plagiarism with a few edit marks in it," says Adam Arkin of the University of California-Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who was not involved in the research. The new structure is "a serious redesign of a chromosome with lots of very clever ways of ... making it more engineerable and more understandable."

The result "is a tour-de-force in synthetic biology," Boston University's James Collins, another outside researcher, says via e-mail.