22 December, 2015 – Episode 546 – This Week in Science Podcast (TWIS)


So much SCIENCE! It’s the Top 11 science stories from 2015 as picked by the hosts of TWIS…

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Disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer
The end is neigh…
No not the end of the world, simply the end of another year…
But not just any year…
2015 was one of the greatest years for science in all of human history…
Take that year 150… 
You heard me 820…
No 1095… you didn’t get an honorable mention because this
isn’t that kind of list…
and don’t look at me like that 1802, you know I love ya…
And yes, yes… 1905, you make a great argument and will
always have a special place in my heart.
But the advances in the past year were greater
and more significant than those of years past because
Not only did we learn new things
But we added to existing knowledge of things learned in the past
And created new tools based on that knowledge
To learn even cooler stuff that we’ll be talking about next year…
More science
More discoveries
More knowledge
More better quality of life made possible from it all…
And as always…
More this week in science
Coming up next…

NUMBER 11! – Climate!
Climate Agreement
The Paris climate talks resulted in an agreement even stricter than previous meetings. Based on science, international representatives agreed to a 1.5 degree increase in temperature from pre-industrial levels rather than 2 degrees. Also, funding from developed nations will assist undeveloped nations in adopting clean-energy alternatives.
Hot In Here
The period from December to February is the hottest on record according to NOAA.

NUMBER 10! – Blood Scans
One Scan Rules
Often finding blood clots within the body takes several scans using multiple different methods. A new technique tested in rats has the potential to make only one scan necessary.
Fingerless prostate screening
Using a single drop of blood, a new test for prostate cancer antigens costs a dollar and is significantly more accurate than palpation with a finger.
Test For Infections
A new simple blood test could inform people what viruses have interacted with their immune systems over the course of their lives. However, it’s not ready for mass use yet as it is plagued by false positives, and not entirely accurate.

NUMBER 9! – Vaccines
AIDS Monkey Vaccine
Researchers report unparalleled success with a vaccine for simian immunodeficiency virus, a close relative of the human immunodeficiency virus, that includes two artificial versions of the CD4 receptor targeted by the virus upon infection.
Possible H5N1 cure
Single-dose Ebola vaccine
This vaccine protected non-human primates against the African Makona strain of the ebola virus, suggesting it will be useful against multiple similar viral strains.
One Jab To Rule
The universal flu vaccine is on its way. Two papers this week report different methods of creating a vaccine using an important and relatively unvariable protein from the H1N1 flu virus strain. Both were 100% effective in protecting mice from the deadly and distantly related H5N1 strain.
Just add water
The vaccines of the future could be freeze-dried for rapid production in all areas of the world.

NUMBER 8! – Synthetics
New Letters For Life
Two new nucleotides have been created and shown to pair with natural DNA potentially enabling new functions and proteins.
Making Protein Makers
A study in Nature this week describes the successful creation of a synthetic ribosome, the organelle responsible for assembling RNA into proteins. The ribosome differs from the natural cellular component in that its two subunits are tethered permanently together. Yet, it does not seem to pose a problem as the synthetic ribosome kept bacteria lacking the natural organelle alive.

NUMBER 7! – Prosthetics
Prosthetic Arms
Three men have received robotic arm prostheses using brachial innervation.
Mind-Reading For Movement
New brain-computer-interfaces based on EEGs are making strides in controlling prosthetic limbs.
Haptic Handshake
In a world first, an astronaut on the International Space Station virtually shook hands with a person on Earth.
Memory Prosthetic
A new device may be on the way to help people with damage to the hippocampal brain regions form new memories.
Prosthesis With Feeling
DARPA research has shown that sensory information from a prosthetic hand can be conveyed back to the sensory cortex of the brain to provide useful information to the user.

NUMBER 6! – Water in Space
Water Everywhere!
Ganymede has a massive ocean, and Enceladus has hot hydrothermal activity on its seafloor.
Tears Of Mars
NASA announced that salty water has been discovered flowing on the surface of Mars. What does this mean for the possibility of life on Mars?
Water on the moon too…
Not just hiding in cold, dark shadows, water appears to be more available on the moon than previously thought, AND it came from asteroids.
Global Oceans
The Saturnian moon Enceladus holds a vast ocean beneath its frozen surface separating the crust from the core.

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NUMBER 5! – Comet 67P
Philae Awakens!
We weren’t sure if the plucky little lander would wake up, but it did and till has data to send back to Earth via Rosetta. The ESA is working to get the Rosetta craft into a new orbit that puts it into more and better contact with the lander to fulfill further science on the comet.
Cometary Sinkholes
There are massive sinkholes on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Geramisenko, which are thought to have formed due to heating from the sun.
Many Layered Comet
Comet 67P is probably made up of two comets that collided at some point in the past. Additionally, it is eroding from the periodic build up and melt of ice in the shadows on its surface.

NUMBER 4! – Dwarf Planets
Pluto’s moons are crazy
They experience a chaotic orbital dance that works just right for them to avoid destroying one another.
Flowing ice and hazy skies???
That’s what the LORRI instrument on New Horizons detected when aimed back at the little planetoid. The haze seems to be double-layered, and the ice flows indicate recent geologic activity.
We made it, and we are learning so much. NBC Digital Senior editor and author of “The Case for Plutio” joins us to discuss the news from the dwarf
Pluvian Ice Volcanoes?
They aren’t confirmed yet, but images suggest that the surface of Pluto is marked by giant ice volcanoes.
Cere’s White Spots
White spots on the dwarf planet Ceres are becoming more visible and plentiful. Researchers believe the spots to be water ice.

NUMBER 3! – Microbiome
Anti bac babies = bad bac adults
Data suggests that anti-bacterials given to developing children have negative health effects into adulthood that arise from the disruption of natural bacterial populations.
Personal Microbe Space
You are surrounded by a unique microbial cloud. In effect, we are all Pig Pen.
Babies go viral…
Lots of viruses on and in newborns. Who knew? But, why?
Fat And Guts
Mice fed a lard-based diet gained more weight than controls fed a fish oil diet, and showed signs of inflammation and metabolic disease. Microbes seem to hold the key to this metabolic disaster.
Viral Skin
A recent study confirmed that we are covered in viruses — most of which had never before been identified. Thankfully, the majority of these virii were bacteria-infecting pages.
African Gut Swap
Researchers swapped the diets of 20 African Americans and 20 rural Africans, and found that cancer-risk profiles switched as well. Eating a diet high in fiber and low in fat and protein might be better for the gut.
Mountain man anti-microbial might
Isolated tribes are found to harbor greater microbial diversity in their guts than people living in modern society. A recent study found active anti-microbial agents as well.

NUMBER 2! – Human Ancestry
Ancient bones telling tales…
Markings on 3.8 million year old bones have been revealed to be from stone tools making the emergence of tools within the age of Australopithecus, rather than Homo sapiens, much more likely.
3 million year old tool user???!!!
New evidence validates the idea that human ancestor was using tools well before the emergence of the Homo genus.
Another Hominid For the Tree
In a deep, hard to reach cave in Africa, the bones of a new hominid species and potential human ancestor have been found.

Editing People
A study published last week in the journal Protein & Cell described the mixed results of Chinese scientists to use the Cas-9/CRISPR gene-editing technique to edit preimplantation stage human embryonic cells. The study highlights the lack of specificity of the technique, and the problems inherent in trying to edit the human genome. Additionally, it has increased the conversation around the ethics of human genetic modification.
Will advancing genetic editing technology lead to the demise of the mosquito as researchers remove their ability to reproduce in an effort to fight disease around the world?
Jurrasic Park, here we come…
Mammoths are more likely to come back than ever, now that mammoth DNA has successfully been spliced in with elephant DNA. But should we do it, just because we can??
Japanese researchers have combined light activation with the CRISPR/CAS-9 system, in effect creating a way to edit the genomes of cell with greater accuracy and temporal on-off control.
A new protein called Cpf1 that is able to cut human DNA – potentially with greater accuracy than Cas9 – has been discovered by scientists at the Broad Institute, and might lead to scientific and intellectual property advances in the field.
This study did not result in bacon, but it did determine that CRISPR technology could be used successfully to remove a gene from pigs used by a troublesome virus to infect porcine cells. The resulting GM pigs remained infection-free while their normal brethren got sick.
Meanwhile, the international gene-editing community holds off on editing human DNA.
Editing The Editor
CAS-9 has been altered by MIT scientists to make it more efficient in its editing functions.
Engineering Mosquitoes
Using the CRISPR gene-editing system, researchers have successfully engineered mosquitoes to produce malaria-targeting antibodies, which could lead to 100% resistance in the wild if released from the lab.

Top 3 from Blair’s Animal Corner
Invertebrate sex story of the year
Worms stab themselves in the head with hypodermic penis
Spiders win MVP in the animal corner this year
Skydiving spiders, Sailing spiders, Spider silk catches prey DNA, Homewrecking spiders
Species on the brink get a helping hand!
First rehab tiger has wild babies, and facial tumor diease and white nose syndrome get vaccines!

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I'm the host of this little science show.