Fun Science FRIEDay – Inception

Inception, a clever movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio where the premise of the story is to sneak into a person’s subconscious and implant an idea or a memory whilst they sleep. When the person awakes from their slumber they cannot distinguish the implanted memory from their own. It makes for blockbuster cinematography, but the practical concept is quite frightening to think about: the ability to artificially implant memories inches closer to the prospect of reality distortion.

Zebra Finch – Birds (Credit: Paul Dinning)
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Fun Science FRIEDay – Life is Inevitable

Why does life exist? Its an age old question that has been debated for centuries with popular hypotheses crediting celestial interference, a primordial soup, or a colossal stroke of luck. However, a relatively recent and provocative hypothesis suggests luck has nothing to do with it, and that instead, life is an inevitable consequence of physics.

The author of the concept, Jeremy England – professor of biophysics at MIT, suggests, “the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.”

 

(Photo credit: creative-bioarray)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Gut Enzyme Turns Blood Into Type O

The process of blood transfusions, started in the late 19th century and perfected in the early 20th century, were a big advancement in modern medicine and the treatment of human health. Part of the improvements in this procedure was the discovery of the various blood types in humans, and how that affects how the immune system responds to and “accepts” blood transfusions. Recently, researchers from the University of British Columbia may have found a reliable way to use a bacterial enzyme from the human gut to convert any type of blood into type O – which is compatible with nearly everyone.

Animation of red blood cells (Photo credit: meghanmecrazy)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Resurrection

Life has unbelievably complex and diverse strategies to ensure survival. Organisms are able to go dormant during unfavorable conditions, and resuscitate once the environment becomes ideal again. This can play out over relatively short time periods such as when animals hibernate, or over longer periods where organisms can go into stasis, e.g. reviving bacteria from 250 million year old salt crystals.

Researchers in Russia recently thawed out permafrost sediment frozen for the past 42,000 years, and revealed once frozen and now living nematodes. Yes you heard that correctly, worms birthed and subsequently frozen during the Pleistocene (42,000 years earlier) were just resurrected in the 21st century. Frankenstein, eat your heart out.

Eophasma jurasicum, a fossilized nematode. (Photo credit: Ghedoghedo)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – The Break-up

Our lives are a blip in the space time continuum. As a result, it can seem that the Earth is relatively static, with many of the large scale dynamic changes that shape our sphere largely unnoticeable to us occurring on geological time-scales. One such change is the movement of landmasses on earth, better known as plate tectonics.

Earth’s landmasses are not static but in constant flux. The Earth’s lithosphere (formed by the crust and the upper part of the mantle) is broken up into a number of tectonic plates that move relative to each other at varying speeds, “gliding” over a viscous asthenosphere. There is still ongoing debate about what force or forces causes this movement, but whatever the forces are they can also cause the plates to rupture, forming rifts, and potential leading to the development of new plate boundaries. When this happens landmasses break-up and new continents forms; this is currently happening in the East African Rift in southwestern Kenya.

View of East African Rift in Kenya from space (Photo credit: Google Earth. Data SIO, NOAA, US Navy, NGA, GEBCO).

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Fun Science FRIEDay – A blood test for cancer

Cancer is a tricky disease. It comes in many varieties and can pop-up anywhere in the body seemingly at random. The somewhat cryptic nature of this disease can make diagnosis difficult; this can be frustrating because most cancers are treatable if diagnosed early. Thats what makes this most recent breakthrough all the more exciting; a method to detect cancer through a single blood test!

The blood test is called CancerSEEK and its speculated that it would cost less than 500 USD, which is comparable to or lower than other screening tests. CancerSEEK, is a single blood test that was shown to detect 8 types of common cancer (ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colorectum, lung, and breast) and helps identify the location of the cancer.

Photo credit: fotoquique – Getty Images

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Think water comes in just liquid, ice and gas? Think again!

One of the most basic things that we learn when growing up is that water can exist in 3 different states of matter: as a gas (water vapor), as a liquid (water… water), and as a solid (ice). This basic and fundamental concept has recently been turned upside down as scientist have discovered that water might also exists in a fourth state; liquid water it appears might actually come in two different states. A collaborative team of researchers led by Dr. Laura Maestro at Oxford University, found that the  physical properties of water changed their behavior between 50 and 60℃ potentially changing to a second physical state of water.

(Photo credit: Pixabay/Public Domain Pictures via CC0 Public Domain)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Life After Death

That ominous specter of death. The one certainty in life that we are all careening towards. But how much do we really understand about death? Medically death is defined as the moment the heart stops beating and cuts off blood to the brain. Within seconds after heart failure the brain’s cerebral cortex — the “thinking part” of the brain — slows down instantly and flatlines (meaning no brainwaves are visible on an electric monitor). This initiates a chain reaction of cellular processes that eventually results in the death of brain cells; as a result the brain’s functions also stop and can no longer keep the body alive. The big question is after the heart stops beating, and both heart and brain activity flatlines, how quickly does cognition or awareness fade? A relatively recent study  suggests that consciousness continues even after death.

(Photo credit: Getty)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Au Revoir Cassini

Roughly 20 years ago the Cassini orbiter launched from Cape Canaveral for a seven year journey to the ringed planet Saturn. Towing with it was the Huygens probe, built and maintained by the European Space agency. On its journey to Saturn the orbiter flew by Venus through the asteroid belt, past Jupiter with its giant red eye, before finally arriving at Saturn. After spending countless years investigating Saturn and its moons, today is the culmination of that journey as Cassini begins its death orbit down into Saturn.

Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cassini was a triumph of science and engineering, sending back amazing views and increasing the state of knowledge in astronomy. Cassini discovered two previously unknown moons orbiting Saturn (bringing Saturn’s total known moon count to 60), discovered ice plumes from Enceladus (another Saturn moon) via magnetometer, and detached and sent the Huygens probe  down to the surface of Titan (Saturn’s largest moon). The landing of Huygens on Titan is the first and only landing on the surface of a world in the outer solar system.

Cassini orbiter sees Earth from Saturn (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Embryonic Gene Editing

The world we currently live in would have seemed like science fiction to humans in the not to distant past. Everyday more and advancements transform sci-fi dreams into reality. Most recently gene editing of human embryos has been birthed into the realm of possibility (cheesy pun intended!). In theory gene editing embryos could allow you to choose preferential traits in your soon to be human flesh-blob. That level of ability does not currently exist, but the latest developments in gene editing are still pretty astonishing.

Eggs before gene editing (left), and eggs after gene editing and already undergoing cell division (right)
(Photo credit: Ma et al. 2017)

In a recent study scientists took a human embryo and edited a dangerous mutation from the genes of that embryo; human reality, meet science fiction. Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University, with colleagues in California, China and South Korea, edited embryos, fixing a mutation that causes a common heart condition that can lead to sudden death later in life. The biggest hurdles were producing embryos in which all cells, not just some, were mutation-free, while also avoiding creating unwanted extra mutations during the process. The researchers found that when gene-editing components were introduced with sperm to the egg before fertilization, the success of the process was markedly different from previous approaches. If embryos with the repaired mutation were allowed to develop into babies, they would not only be disease-free but would also not transmit the disease to their descendants.

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