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Saturday, September 18, 2021

This Week in Science

A recent study on the brains of patients diagnosed with depression has accidentally uncovered a method of accurately determining someone’s time of death. The study from the University of Michigan found that throughout a 24-hour day, different sets of about 12,000 genes become active and inactive depending on what time of day it is, and where you are in your circadian rhythm. Based on which genes are active or inactive, scientists can determine how long an individual was awake for and determine their time of death.

Physics and Cancer:
Researchers from CERN have been looking at possible cancer treatments based off an element called astatine (85 on the periodic table) … You’ve probably never heard of it. Astatine is the rarest naturally occurring element on Earth, and it is estimated that there are only three to four grams present in the entire Earth’s crust. For any speakers of ancient Greek out there, astatine is the word for unstable, which is appropriate since its half-life can range from eight hours to mere nanoseconds. Astatine is potentially useful for cancer treatment due to the very high energy alpha-particles it releases. These particles release enormous amounts of energy, and can be directed straight into tumors to initiate cell death.

Solar Flares:
On the night of May 13, the sun erupted an enormous solar flare. It is the third such flare in the past three days, and is the most powerful of the three. The flare contained an energy equivalent to millions of megaton hydrogen bombs. For reference, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a mere 16 kilotons, making this flare about seven (with 15 zeros after it) times more powerful. The sun operates on an 11-year cycle, and researchers from NASA claim that this activity is all completely normal.

Weight Loss:
The human body is teeming with bacteria. Bacteria outnumber our own cells by about 10-to-1. Given that many of these bacteria live in our stomach, it is safe to assume that the health of the bacteria have a direct effect on our own health. Researchers from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium have recently added extra bacteria into the guts of obese mice. The bacteria, Akkermansia muciniphila, normally comprise about three to five percent of the bacteria in our guts. In obese mice, this percentage was significantly lower. The bacteria were given to one group of mice on a high-fat diet, while another group on a high-fat diet was given none of the extra bacteria. The group that was fed the extra bacteria lost about half of the weight they had gained from the diet, while the control group lost none of the weight. This opens up many lines of study for treating obesity and even type II diabetes.

Earth is constantly spinning beneath our feet. It is why the sun rises and sets every day. However, not all spin is created equal. Geologists from the Australia National University College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences have used precise earthquake measurements to determine that the Earth’s core is actually off-sync with the rest of the planet. Not only is its rotation speed different from Earth’s, but it even changes on a regular basis. This new discovery can lead researchers to new theories on how Earth’s magnetic field is created and maintained, how it affects the penetration of cosmic rays into our atmosphere and how those changes could have affected the evolution of life on the surface of the planet.

Hateful Data:
Twitter may not seem so useful when all you see are pictures of friends shoving food into their faces. However, all the hidden data associated with those tweets can be extremely enlightening to anthropologists and other researchers. A group of researchers from Humboldt State University has recently created a map they’ve titled “The Geography of Hate.” The research team searched for thousands of “hateful” words that were present in geo-tagged posts and created a map of where hateful language was most present. The map shows hate levels based on homophobia, racism and even disabilities.

A team of doctors at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. have recently completed mice trials of a drug that has not only stopped the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but has also reversed it. The mice trials have been going on for six years, and the drug, called J147, is now ready to be used in human trials. The drug improves memory and other cognitive functions by slowing and reversing cellular damage in the brain, and does so with lower toxicity than other drugs currently being researched.


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