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Friday, May 17, 2024

This week in science

Medical researchers have recently developed a “nano-sponge” that can enter your bloodstream and soak up deadly bacteria like MRSA that are resistant to conventional antibiotics. The nano-sponge, which measures about 1/300,000th of an inch, is surrounded by a membrane that mimics a red blood cell. The harmful bacteria attach harmlessly to the sponge and then get transported to the liver for removal. The new method was developed at UC San Diego.

The best place to try to figure out the origins of the universe is not on top of a mountain with a telescope; it is deep underground. These caves contain some of the most sensitive scientific instruments ever created and form the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (CDMS) project. The sensors at CDMS have recently detected three “WIMPs,” or weakly interactive massive particles, that could shed light on the nature of dark matter and the origins of the universe. The CDMS project is located in the Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota. It is a collaborative project between Stanford University, and the University of Minnesota.

It turns out that life is very much like a computer in the way that it increases in complexity. By using Moor’s law, or the idea that computing power will double every two years, computer scientists regressed the equation for the human genome, and calculated that life in our universe originated somewhere between eight and 10 billion years ago … more than twice the age of the Earth itself. Whereas computing power doubles every two years, gene size doubles every 367 million years. This was calculated by looking at the number of base pairs in human DNA, comparing it to the number of base pairs in the DNA of other animals on Earth whose evolutionary age we know and creating a linear progression backward in time. The research comes out of the National Institute of Ageing in Baltimore, and the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Florida.

April 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project. Ten years ago, an international team of researchers succeeded in decoding the 3 billion letters in human DNA. Sequencing the first DNA strand cost $1 billion and took months, but after 10 years of fine-tuning the algorithms, software and hardware, that same strand of DNA can be decoded for between $3,000 and $5,000, and in only two days. This research has saved many lives with the treatments that have arisen from it. Last year, the entire catalog of known genes and their functions was published online on the ENCODE (ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements) project.

A group of doctors at the Indiana University School of Medicine recently discovered that in patients with addictive personalities such as alcoholics, simply tasting beer is enough to release a flood of rewarding dopamine in the brain. The surprising part is that the beer the researchers had patients test was non-alcoholic. The researchers conducted brain scans on men after they had tasted Gatorade; they then conducted a second test after the patients had tasted the non-alcoholic beer. The differences were especially pronounced in patients whose families had a history of alcoholism.

Social Media:
A new study from The Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island recently showed that female college freshmen spend nearly 12 hours a day interacting with some form of social media, be it Facebook, YouTube or even talking on the phone and texting. Heavy online media use was linked to a lower average GPA. The researchers tested 483 freshmen women for the study. They also found that reading newspapers and listening to music was linked to a higher average GPA.

Opponents of evolution love to point out the inability of natural selection to produce structures like the eye or brain. Biologists have recently proposed an alternative theory; instead of these complex structures emerging bit by bit and becoming more complex, they instead became complex by subtraction. This means that the structures started out inefficient and unwieldy, and were winnowed to their most efficient form through natural selection. Using a computer program that mimics the process of inheritance, mutation, recombination and reproduction, the researchers created a simulation of simple black and white squares that followed simple rules to create a structure. Over time, the squares learned how to become more efficient at their task, enforcing the theory behind this new idea. This research comes from researchers at Duke University and the Phylogenetics lab at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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