20 February, 2014 – Episode 452 – This Week in Science


Stem Cell Sagas, Dogs Listen, Kanga Climate Keepers, Snake Venom Keeps, White Water Ants, Manta Ray Parties, Short To Long, LASER Eugenics, Robo-Termites!, Shapely Math, Poop Is A Drug, And Much More…

Disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer
The time we humans have upon the earth is too short to waste on foolish things
Of course, the debate of what is and what is not a foolish thing has been going on for thousands of years and taken up the time and energy of so many millions of lives that that in itself may be a foolish pursuit.
So, it might be time to be more specific about how to avoid wasting the precious time we have here on our planet Earth.
One idea comes to mind: stick to those things that have never been considered a waste.
Things that are worth the time they take to accomplish.
Things that alter the course of future events for the better.
Things that have a positive effect on you, the people around you, or all of human kind.
Stick to those things that are rewarding, enlightening, inspiring, life-changing, titillating, scintillating, record-breaking, joy-making, or fascinating.
And how can you find those things? They are all too often found…
This week in science… coming up next

Stem Cell Saga Continues
It seems that every time there is a major advancement in stem cell research, it comes along with some kind of trouble. We know this isn’t always the case, as stem cell pioneer Shinji Yamanaka received last year’s Nobel prize. But, last week’s reporting by many news outlets of acid-bath reprogramming of skin cells to a pre-pluripotent state has turned into inquiry related to reporting irregularities. We will have to wait to hear whether replications of the technique by other labs pan out.

But, it’s not all bad news in stem cell town…

Stem Cell Success
Gladstone Institute scientists have used a chemical cocktail of small molecules to reprogram skin cells into beating heart cells. The work is being reported in the journal Cell Reports.

Return to Emoticons
In other news, last week I reported briefly that our brains are responding to emoticons as they would to faces. I overstated the results, and would like to clarify. Although, our brains are responding to emoticons featurally, (eyes, nose, mouth equal a face), the researchers suggest that emoticons are shorthand for the thing or idea they represent and thus take a different path thru the brain to the same end.

Mysterious Manta Ray Parties in Guam
Manta Rays hang out under the moon light, oddly during the time surgeonfish spawn… But WHY?

Snake Venom good for, well, pretty much forever
This is good news for snakes previously caught and milked for medicinal research

Kangaroo fossils can tell us about climate change
By studying the fossil record of kangaroos we can see how plants have changed, and from there figure out the relative climate.

Ants build raft to escape floods
Ants build rafts, with their queen in the middle, to survive conditions they would never make it through alone.

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From Short To Long
The non-disease forms of small proteins called prions are probably the key to long term memories, according to recent research by Kausik Si of the Stowers Center for Medical Research. The prion protein in fruit fly neurons is called Orb2. It comes is two variants: Orb2A and Orb2B. It’s the Orb2B variant that is able to form long chains, turns other prions evil, creates clumps within the neuron, and leads to eventual cell death. Orb2A is stable on its own, and when protected from cellular house-keeping machinery by a protein called TOB, can persist in the synapse. This allows a second protein called Lim kinase to phosphorylate the complex after the synapse is electrically stimulated. The actions of Orb2A are self-perpetuating in the synapse at this point, and function to maintain synapse activation, and the cellular equivalent of long-term memory. The key to maintaining a memory is self-propagation of chemical chain reactions under specific circumstances, which the prion seems to fulfill for good or for ill.

Higher Spectral Purity – Laser Eugenics
Researchers at CalTech have engineered a laser for optical communications with a higher spectral purity, an approximately 20-times narrower range of frequencies than possible in the older model currently in use. This means that if adopted by fiber-optic networks, the internet could see orders of magnitude increases in bandwidth… not that you would ever see them, really.

Termite Robots Build A New World
Harvard University designed TERMES robot teams are able to construct a human sized structure after seeing the blueprints, and without knowing what their counterparts are doing.

Mathematicians Find Shapes!
A whole new class of shapes, called Goldberg polyhedra, has been described based on research investigating a protein in the eye called clathrin. The basic idea for these shapes, which are based on Platonic ideals of the pyramid, cube, octagon, etc. , is that they bulge, but their faces have been divided by smaller shapes at various angles to one another to such a degree that the faces remain flat. The new category could allow better determination of natural structures like viruses.

FDA considers Poop a Drug
OpenBiome is collecting stool samples from healthy pre-screened individuals and sending them to hospitals for fecal transplants. The FDA is allowing them to do this under their current drug regulations.

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