18 December, 2019 – Episode 751 – The Top 11 Discoveries of 2019!


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The Top 11 Science Discoveries of 2019, And Much More… Merry TWISmas, everyone!

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‘Twas the night before TWiSmas,
when all thro’ the house,
Researchers were stirring,
some with a mouse;
The stories were gathered by the broadcast with care,
In hopes that the listeners soon would be there;
The Patreons were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of supernova danc’d in their heads,
And Blair with her corner,
and Kiki with brains
Had just listened to Justin’s Christmas disclaims…

… When out on the interwebs there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the chatroom to see just what was the matter.
Away to the website I flew like a flash,
Clicked open search browsers and threw up some hash tags.
what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But 11 top stories, the best of the year…

On this week in science,
Coming up next…

Let’s start our COUNTDOWN!

NUMBER 11 – Evolution of Life
Ancestor Cells
A comparison of the transcriptomes of sponges to single-celled organisms suggests that multi-cellular organisms didn’t evolve from single-celled organisms, but instead from something more similar to stem cells.
First Cells Collaborated
Fatty acid membranes are normally disrupted by salts. But, UW researchers discovered that fatty acids are stabilized by amino acids enabling them to form layers of membranes even in the presence of salts that would have made up the early oceans. Could this have been the chemistry that led to early life?

NUMBER 10 – Organoids
Blood Vessel Organoids
Grown from stem cells in a dish, and successfully transplanted into mice, human blood vessel organoids have the potential to uncover causes of vasculature diseases and lead to new treatments.
Mini Brains Are Amazing
Brain organoids composed of human brain cells grown from stem cells by researchers in the UK spontaneously connected to mouse spinal cord neurons and enabled muscle contraction. The system contracted spontaneously, but irregularly.
Organoid Brain Development
An organoid study tells a tale of developmental differences between chimps and humans.
Stressed Out Organoids
New research into brain organoids suggests that they are not as similar to real brains as the hype would have us think. In fact, they are really stressed out.

NUMBER 9 – Human Evolution
Mystery species in the human genome… hint, it’s not aliens.
Deep learning technique provides insights into human evolution
Ancient hominin cave reveals more secrets of the past
The new studies show that the cave was occupied by Denisovans from at least 200,000 years ago, with stone tools in the deepest deposits suggesting human occupation may have begun as early as 300,000 years ago. Neanderthals visited the site between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, with “Denny”, the girl of mixed ancestry, revealing that the two groups of hominins met and interbred around 100,000 years ago.
Denisovans did it with humans… way more recently than we might have thought
In this new effort, the researchers report evidence suggesting Denisovans mated with humans possibly as recently as 15,000 years ago, in Papua New Guinea.
More new humans!
New Denisovan discovery
Neader teeth sharpen view of divergence with current humans
Neanderthals and modern humans diverged at least 800,000 years ago, previous studies date the site to around 430,000 years ago
Neander news
Lost tribe of humans
The tooth is out there… some current humans have Denisovan traits!
An analysis of a 160,000-year-old archaic human molar fossil discovered in China offers the first morphological evidence of interbreeding between archaic humans and Homo sapiens in Asia.
Oldest human out of Africa ever found just got a whole lot older
A 210,000-year-old skull has been identified as the earliest modern human remains found outside Africa, putting the clock back on mankind’s arrival in Europe by more than 150,000 years, researchers said Wednesday.
Stone tools uncovered in Mongolia by an international team of archaeologists indicate that modern humans traveled across the Eurasian steppe about 45,000 years ago, according to a new University of California, Davis, study. The date is about 10,000 years earlier than archaeologists previously believed.
10 million year old upright apes
Neanderthals are older than we thought
More than 260 flint objects, including 5 bifaces or hand axes, dating from 650,000 to 670,000 years ago,

NUMBER 8 – Paleogeology
https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/03/27/1817407116“>Fishy Fossils
A paper out in PNAS reports evidence found in North Dakota of what might have happened in the hours following the Chixiclub asteroid impact 65 million years ago tat wiped out 75% of life on land.

NUMBER 7 – Artificial Intelligence
AI For Folding
AI deep learning networks hold promise for numerous scientific areas.
AI For Fusion
Artificial Number Sense
An AI neural network developed “number sense” that closely matches neural activity in monekys.
Robots reading text books… can write the next version
Rubik’s Solved By AI
A deep learning algorithm has solved the Rubik’s cube puzzle using the least number of moves.
8th Grade Smarty Computer
The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence has developed an AI called Aristo that finally passed 8th grade. It’s been trying to pass the test for several years, but recent advances in natural language processing and cognitive reasoning allowed it to score better than 90% on a science test geared toward 8th grade level knowledge.
Hide & Seek AI
An AI was taught hide and seek, and it broke the game.
Deep Mind StarCraft
Google’s Deep Mind AI research group has developed an AI called Alpha Star that doesn’t just play Star Craft, it became a Grandmaster.
Evading Detection
An AI algorithm named GENEVA was able to outsmart internet censorship tools in place in countries like China, and could mark the beginning of a digital battle for internet freedom.

NUMBER 6 – Animal Intelligence
Crows are smart. Again…
This time, it looks like they can infer how heavy an object is, by seeing how the wind might blow it around.
Intelligence is sexy. No really! Science says so!
…If you are a budgie… Being able to solve a puzzle makes unappealing males suddenly the life of the avian party. So take that, bullies!
This bee isn’t sure about your art
Bees have been shown to be able to discern art styles of two different artists after a short experiment. Does that mean all our art looks like flowers? Or do bees actually have an opinion on the fine arts?
Could you master a shell game? This African Grey could.
Wasps know logic
Wasps may be jerk bees, but they are also smart bees. So there? I guess?
Bees are smarter than you.
Bees have shown to exhibit some basic number symbol recognition, reminding us once again that these stripey buddies might not be trying to hurt you, they might instead be trying to tutor you in math.
Have you played hide and seek with your lab rats today?
Rats appear to enjoy this activity, and it may, once again, change the way we care for lab animals.
Ape Minds
Apes might now be said to have a ‘Theory of Mind’.
Hey! Who’s driving that car? A rat??
Rats are less stressed when they get a chance to drive, as opposed to me when I get stuck in traffic…

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Now, let’s continue with the COUNTDOWN!…

NUMBER 5 – The Black Hole Picture
Seeing A Hole
An international collaboration networked telescopes from around the world to create a virtual telescope the size of the Earth with sufficient resolution to image a black hole. That image of M87 was released today.

NUMBER 4 – Neuroscience
False Song Memories
Researchers implanted false memories of songs into birds heads.
Speaking Brains
Using neural network and Vocoder technology trained to recognize brain patterns related to listening to speech, scientists were able to create a brain to speech interface that can be understood about 75% of the time, which is better than anything else created to date.
Hearing Voices
In a new advance toward brain-computer interfaces that will one day let brains speak without need of a mouth, UCSF researchers have designed a device that translates full sentences from neural activity within the motor cortex that are understood 43% of the time.
Mind Control
Carnegie Mellon engineers have improved the accuracy of non-invasive brain-computer-interfaces in controlling a robotic arm.
Neuralink Tech
Another Musk endeavor, a company called Neuralink is making waves this week with a presentation and paper detailing their efforts to improve BMI technology, and get to human trials within the year.
Stimulating Seeing
Neuroscientists used optogenetics to trigger small populations of visual neurons and simulate real visual input leading mice to perform a trained behavior. Is this method recreating real vision within the brain?
Brain To Brain
Using EEG and transcranial magnetic stimulation, researchers successfully demonstrated brain-to-brain information transmission.
Brain Thoughts
Using EEG, Russian researchers were able to watch thoughts in the brain in real time.
Brain Cells For Bob?
A new study looks at several methods of human brain preservation and finds evidence of neurogenesis depends on how tissue was stored after death. While far from the final evidence needed to confirm whether or not human brains continue to grow new brain cells throughout life, this study could at least create standards for future research.

NUMBER 3 – Disease Cures
Reversing Alzheimer’s
A team from University of Buffalo has reversed cognitive effects of Alzheimer’s disease in a mouse model. Great news for mice!
Two Points
A second HIV-patient appears to have been cured of infection by a stem cell transplant to treat lypmphoma. Two point make a line, but is it enough to indicate a trend?
HIV Removal
Mice have been completely cured of HIV using a method involving slow-release anti-retroviral drugs and the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology, according to a study published in Nature Communications this week. Is it a proof of concept toward treatment?
Editias has begun a clinical trial to study the use of CRISPR to fix retinal deterioration in people.
Closer To A Cure
Several recent trials of drugs to treat Ebola have proven very successful at reducing the mortality rate from the disease. The trick now will be getting people into the clinics for treatment.
Cornea Transplant
A Japanese woman is the first in the world to receive a corneal transplant of iPS cells. Apparently, all is progessing well.
Age reversing drugs
Drugs reverse aging
Age Reversal For Mice
Using gene therapy, Harvard Wyss Institute scientists reversed symptoms of four aging-related diseases in mice.

NUMBER 2 – Climate Change
Expected sea rise is… on the rise
Seas may be rising faster than thought
Melting Ice
As Antarctica and Greenland melt faster and faster into the seas, it’s important to have an idea of what to expect. And, we can not only expect higher sea levels, but also changes in weather as ocean circulation patterns are altered.
Global warming forecast…
it ain’t great
Here is what you need to know about the global decline of insects.
Looming Extinctions
There is still time to fix things, but our procrastination is putting over 1 million species at risk of extinction. Should they go, our future becomes more precarious.
Global warming confirmed!
I like big birds and I cannot lie.
So climate change has me pretty bummed, overall.
Bad Climate News
Let’s get it out of the way…
Stop blaming volcanos… it’s not volcanos…
the real culprit of global warming is… HUMANS!!!
Nitrous oxide
Emissions set to rise in the Pacific Ocean
Greenlandic thaw
It’s faster than we expected.

NUMBER 1 – Biotechnology, OR “Blair’s Science Ethics Conundrums Corner”
Cloned Edited Monkeys
Chinese research has crossed a new threshold with the publication of two papers describing the CRISPR editing of macaque monkey embryos and the production of clones based on fibroblast cells taken from the embryos using somatic nuclear transfer.
Chinese Monkey Brains
Researchers in China have edited human genes for brain development into monkeys, and the results suggest that it made the monkeys a bit smarter.
Human-Monkey Chimeras
Spanish and American researchers have gone to China to avoid regulations restricting the creation of human-primate chimeras, and although nothing has been scientifically published it’s being reported that they have successfully produced human-monkey embryos that have been allowed to develop for a week or two.
Pig-Monkey Mix
Researchers created pig-monkey chimeras, but really weren’t very successful.
First Heart?
Bioprinting is full of promise for fufure medical needs, and that future might be rapidly on its way. Researchers in regenerative engineering in Tel Aviv have successfully bioprinted the world’s first 3-dimensional, vascularized human heart using a patient’s cells. The only problems are that it is only about as big as a rabbit’s heart, and the cells don’t beat together like they should.
Gene Therapy for Heart Attack
RNA can stimulate cells to repair after myocardial infarction.
Unintended Mosquitoes
A planned release of genetically modified mosquitoes meant to reduce mosquito populations in Brazil worked, but has led to the spread of genes from the GM species into the natural population.
Only Mostly Dead!
Yale researchers report keeping pig brains alive several hours after decapitation the the journal Nature using their BrainEx perfusion system.
So Super Cool
Scientists successfully supercooled human livers, extending their viability by slightly more than a day. This has tremendous potential for human organ transplantation… far more than drone delivery.
Go Go Gadget Gene Drive
Researchers are looking at new techniques to improve gene drive results in mice.
Gene Drive Progress
Researchers in Italy have begun a new mosquito gene-drive experiment that explores the gene-drive in a more realistic environment while still in a lab.

Who are the honorable mentions?

Ah, the transient anus
Ctenophores answer the age old question, why poop? And from where? And how??
Fly-repelling nature of zebra stripes: confirmed!
How else, but by dressing up horses as zebras?? I LOVE SCIENCE.
The zebra stripe plot thickens!
As does their black hair in the heat! Temperature regulation may have something to do with those stripes after all. We may never know why a zebra has stripes at this rate!!
Zebra Stripe Update
Cows painted to look like zebras are bitten less often by biting insects.
How Hagfish Slime Slimes
Apparently, it unravels.
Baby Planets!
Mind the gap! Two new exoplanets support the protoplanetary-disk hypothesis of planetary formation.
Probing Atmospheres
NASA scientists have taken a good look at the atmosphere of a distant planet called Gliese 3470b finding it contains hydrogen and helium, kind of like our sun.


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