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Wed, 24 May 2017
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Scientists are 'tantalisingly close' to producing large quantities of blood from a patients own stem cells

Two papers published this week have revealed that scientists are "tantalisingly close" to being able to produce large quantities of blood cells from a patient's own stem cells.

This would revolutionise treatments for people who need frequent blood transfusions, as well as those with bone marrow disorders who struggle to find a match with a healthy donor.

"For many years, people have figured out parts of this recipe, but they've never quite gotten there," Mick Bhatia from McMaster University in Canada, who was not involved with either study, told Nature News.

"This is the first time researchers have checked all the boxes and made blood stem cells."

Stem cells are specially programmed cells whose job is to create all the other cells in the body.

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Skipping invasive surgery? Fractured pig bones healed using tiny bubbles & ultrasound

© Science Magazine / YouTube
A team of scientists has successfully repaired the broken bones of lab animals without invasive surgery, by using micro-bubbles and ultrasound to stimulate the growth of stem cells.

In a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday, Maxim Bez and a team of Cedars Sinai-led scientists were able to facilitate the natural growth of stem cells to create more bone marrow in broken bones that cannot heal on their own, known as "nonunion fractures."

While certain bone injuries only require a few weeks in a cast to heal, more severe injuries can cause large gaps between the edges of a fracture that cannot be healed without invasive surgery or bone grafting.

Christmas Tree

New study suggests plants can hear

© nikkytok/Getty Images
Pseudoscientific claims that music helps plants grow have been made for decades, despite evidence that is shaky at best. Yet new research suggests some flora may be capable of sensing sounds, such as the gurgle of water through a pipe or the buzzing of insects.

Comment: It is ironic that the author denigrates research that shows music helps plants grow at the same time as quoting a study which "suggests" plants can sense sound, but which did not find causal links. Pot, kettle, black it seems.

In a recent study, Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia, and her colleagues placed pea seedlings in pots shaped like an upside-down Y. One arm of each pot was placed in either a tray of water or a coiled plastic tube through which water flowed; the other arm had only soil. The roots grew toward the arm of the pipe with the fluid, regardless of whether it was easily accessible or hidden inside the tubing. "They just knew the water was there, even if the only thing to detect was the sound of it flowing inside the pipe," Gagliano says.

Yet when the seedlings were given a choice between the water tube and some moistened soil, their roots favored the latter. Gagliano hypothesizes that these plants use sound waves to detect water at a distance but follow moisture gradients to home in on their target when it is closer.


Researchers create bio-sythetic ovaries with 3D printer

© CCO/Pixabay
While in its relative infancy, 3D printing has already revolutionized prosthesis, with scientists creating skin, ears and even bones. Now, researchers have made a landmark advance, creating ovaries from gelatine, allowing infertile mice to give birth to healthy offspring. It's hoped the application could one day restore fertility in sterile humans.

The Northwestern University researchers primed a 3D printer with a nozzle capable of firing gelatin, derived from a collagen naturally found in mammalian ovaries. The ovaries were built by printing various patterns of overlapping gelatin filaments on glass slides — each "scaffold" measured a mere 15 by 15 millimeters. The team then carefully inserted mouse follicles (spherical structures containing a growing egg surrounded by hormone-producing cells) into these "scaffolds." The scaffolds that were more tightly woven hosted a higher fraction of surviving follicles after 8 days, an effect the team attributed to the follicles having better physical support.


Dogs can 'talk' to humans, says new study

© Christopher Pledger
Dogs have a surprising ability to make humans understand what their barks and growls mean, a study has shown.

Women were better than men at recognising when a dog was being playful or threatening, or feeling fear, scientists discovered.

For the study, 40 volunteers listened to different growls recorded from 18 dogs that were guarding their food, facing a threatening stranger, or playing a tug-of-war game.

Overall, participants correctly classified 63 per cent of the growl samples - significantly more than would be expected by guesswork alone, said the researchers.

Each growl type was also recognised above chance level. The human listeners identified 81 per cent of the "play" growls but were less good at recognising food guarding and threatening growls.

Dr Tamas Farago and his team from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary wrote in the journal Royal Society Open Science: "Participants associated the correct contexts with the growls above chance.


Researchers find more evidence linking changes in the prefrontal cortex to psychopathic behavior

© LANBO/Shutterstock.com
Researchers have added to a growing body of evidence linking criminal psychopathy and changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

After scanning the brains of 124 inmates in the US, the team found that psychopathic traits such as a lack of empathy and impulsive antisocial behaviour were associated with larger than average grey matter volumes in the prefrontal cortex.

The find doesn't necessarily mean changes in the prefrontal cortex can cause psychopathy or vice versa - correlation does not equal causation, after all.

But it's not the first study to connect changes in the prefrontal cortex to psychopathy, and it suggests a link worth investigating further - particularly if it could help researchers find ways to better predict who might be at risk of displaying psychopathic traits and intervening before they commit a crime.


Narwal mystery solved with drone footage

Rarely has footage of fishing caused such a stir in the scientific community.

However, the aerial video of a pod of Narwhals using their long tusks, which has earned them the nickname Unicorn of the Sea, to knock some Arctic cod senseless and easier for consumption has drawn attention from around the globe.

"There's been a debate for 400 years about what those tusks are used for," said University of Windsor assistant biology professor Nigel Hussey, who was part of the team of researchers who shot the video using drones.

"It's an iconic animal because of what is essentially an erupted tooth. There's been many hypothesis, but no one has observed or proven anything specifically.

"This footage is the first time we have a direct observation of the tusk being used for a specific behaviour."

Bizarro Earth

Study finds loss of Central American tropical forests links to cocaine money-laundering - dubbed 'Narco-deforestation'

© Oregon State University
Deforested land. Central American forests are giving way to pasture land for cattle ranches.
Central American tropical forests are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples there and endangering some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America. The culprit? Cocaine.

Central American tropical forests are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples there and endangering some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America.

The culprit? Cocaine.

The problem is not the cultivation of the coca plant -- which is processed into cocaine -- that is causing this "narco-deforestation." It results from people throughout the spectrum of the drug trade purchasing enormous amounts of land to launder their illegal profits, researchers say.

Ice Cube

Mysterious flashes of light from Earth captured by NASA's EPIC satellite

© NASA/NOAA/U.S. Air Force
An image from the EPIC instrument aboard DSCOVR, taken on Dec. 3, 2015, shows a glint over central South America (circled in red).
One million miles from Earth, a NASA camera is capturing unexpected flashes of light reflecting off our planet.

The homeward-facing instrument on NOAA's Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, launched in 2015, caught hundreds of these flashes over the span of a year. NASA's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) instrument aboard DSCOVR is taking almost-hourly images of the sunlit planet from its spot between Earth and the sun. In a new study, scientists deciphered the tiny cause to the big reflections: high-altitude, horizontally oriented ice crystals.

"The source of the flashes is definitely not on the ground," said Alexander Marshak, DSCOVR deputy project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new study in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. "It's definitely ice, and most likely solar reflection off of horizontally oriented particles."


Scientists spot never-before-seen lava waves on Jupiter's volcanic moon Io

The planets have aligned for researchers from UC Berkeley - quite literally.

A rare cosmic alignment enabled scientists to observe, for the first time, waves of lava bubbling across a giant molten lake on Jupiter's moon Io.

The researchers, who published their findings in Nature last week, first noticed the lava floes by observing neighboring moon Europa pass in front of Io in March 2015. Icy Europa blocked the light from volcanic Io and reflected on its icy surface the two never-before-seen waves.

UC Berkeley's Katherine de Kleer, the lead author on the paper, told IFLScience that the waves, which had "different velocities and start times," tell scientists that "there's some complex system underneath the volcano."