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Ajit Johnson

Cancer biologist, University of Edinburgh

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June 24, 2017 · 27 Reads

Top stories in science this week

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1. New discovery could allow us to edit memories to make them less traumatic

Researchers have recently discovered two different types of memory use completely different processes in the same nerves, opening the way for a new pharmaceutical solution for treating anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Reference: Current Biology

2. Exposure to ozone increases chances of autism 10-fold in at-risk kids

Having a higher number of copies of genes has been shown to raise the risk of a child developing autism, as has early exposure to various pollutants in the mother’s environment. Researchers have now shown that when these two factors are combined, an individual has 10 times the chance of developing the condition, demonstrating the importance of stepping beyond the question of nature versus nurture and looking at the bigger picture.

Reference: Autism Research

3. Gene editing could point to a cure for huntington’s disease

Huntington’s disease is a fatal, inherited condition where brain cells die off due to a toxic protein released by a mutant version of the Huntingtin gene (mHTT). Symptom onset is typically in early middle age, making it a devastating illness at a time when victims are often parents of young children. The revolutionary gene editing technique (CRSPIR)has Huntington’s disease in its sights, as scientists have used it to reverse signs of the condition in mice.

Reference: Journal of Clinical Investigation

4. New evidence might point to a tenth planet in our solar system- roughly the size of Mars

The search for Planet Nine has lead scientists to believe that it is orbiting around 700 AU from the Sun. However, Volk and Malhotra believe that this tenth planet could be much closer, as the orbit of Kuiper belt bodies shifted just beyond 50 AU. They also contend that the planet would be roughly comparable to Mars, in terms of size. Other astronomers, however, are not so quick to hop on this train of thought.

Reference: The Astronomical Journal

5. Researchers are using viruses to make superbugs commit suicide

The gene-editing technology called CRISPR has its origins as a bacterial immune system against viruses, a feature which could be turned against them in the future. By arming bacteriophage viruses with the tools to force bacteria into falling on their own swords, scientists hope we will be able to develop powerful new ways to defeat antibiotic resistant pathogens and perhaps even shape our body’s microflora.

Reference: CRISPR 2017 conference

6. The number of deadly heatwaves will only keep rising, scientists warn

One of the consequences of a warming planet is more heatwaves, and more heatwaves that are hot enough to kill. Those deadly heatwaves are set to keep growing in number, according to a new study. Researchers compared projected temperatures with data from past heatwaves and found that a massive 74 percent of the world’s population could be exposed to potentially deadly heatwaves by 2100, if carbon gas emissions continue to rise at the current rates.

Reference: Nature Climate Change

7. DNA replication has been filmed for the first time

Here’s proof of how far we’ve come in science — in a world-first, researchers have recorded up-close footage of a single DNA molecule replicating itself, and it’s raising questions about how we assumed the process played out. The real-time footage has revealed that this fundamental part of life incorporates an unexpected amount of ‘randomness’, and it could force a major rethink into how genetic replication occurs without mutations.

Reference: Cell

8. Researchers have traced the genes for antibiotic resistance back to their source

In what could be compared to finding patient zero in an outbreak, researchers have traced genes for antibiotic resistance back to their source. With an increasing variety of pathogenic bacteria evolving to protect themselves against our best chemical weapons, finding the origins of their key defences against antibiotics has become a priority. New research from The Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Biosustainability in Denmark has for the first time provided evidence to back up what biologists have long suspected — the resistance genes come from the same source as the antibiotics themselves.

Reference: Nature Communications

9. Scientists have achieved ‘liquid light’ at room temperature

For the first time, physicists have achieved ‘liquid light’ at room temperature, making this strange form of matter more accessible than ever. This matter is both a superfluid, which has zero friction and viscosity, and a kind of Bose-Einstein condensate — sometimes described as the fifth state of matter — and it allows light to actually flow around objects and corners.

Reference: Nature Physics

10. A paint could produce clean energy from water vapour and sunlight

A team of researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) has developed a paint that can be used to generate clean energy. The paint combines the titanium oxide already used in many wall paints with a new compound: synthetic molybdenum-sulphide. The latter acts a lot like the silica gel packaged with many consumer products to keep them free from damage by absorbing moisture. According to a report on RMIT’s website, the material absorbs solar energy as well as moisture from the surrounding air. It can then split the water into hydrogen and oxygen, collecting the hydrogen for use in fuel cells or to power a vehicle.

Research: ACS Nano

11. A simple blood count could help diagnose cancer earlier

These figures are exciting as they show that thrombocytosis could be used by doctors to identify patients to send for further investigation for cancer earlier; perhaps before other symptoms begin. If thrombocytosis was recognised as a risk marker of cancer, it is likely that a third of lung cancer patients would have their diagnosis made earlier — which could make the difference in longer survival.

Reference: British Journal of General Practice

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