This month in science

A summary of all the latest and best science headlines. Follow the links for more information!

November 2017

GeneXpert, a test rolled out in 2010 to detect tuberculosis, has not succeeded in reducing the number of cases of the disease. More…

Experiments on the effects of antidepressants in mice suggests that the sex of the experimenter alters the results. More…

Banana trees have been genetically modified to resist a fungus, Fusarium wilt tropical race 4, that has been spreading rapidly across crops. More…

Axolotls, studied for their ability to regenerate limbs, are becoming increasingly scarce in the wild. More…

Image credit: Brett Gundlock

Antibiotic use and your gut microbiome may affect your response to immunotherapy. More…

Skin wounds heal faster during the day than they do at night, likely as a result of the circadian clock. More…

Epigenetic changes may be behind the observation that prior consumption of alcohol leads to an increase likelihood of cocaine usage. More…

A large chamber has been discovered inside an Egyptian pyramid by physicists using muon particle detectors. More…

A boy with the potentially lethal skin condition epidermolysis bullosa has been treated using genetically modified stem cells. More…

Antibodies produced against the dengue virus may increase the severity of future infections by enhancing the virus’ ability to enter host cells. More…

Intensive control of a patient’s blood pressure appears to reduce the mortality associated with chronic kidney disease. More…

October 2017

Madagascar is battling a large outbreak of pneumonic plague, fatal if untreated and spread via coughs and sneezes.

Stephen Hawking’s PhD thesis has been accessed 2 million times globally since it became freely available on October 23rd.

Huge quantities of krill is what is apparently attracting a gathering of humpback whales to the coast of South Africa every day, some travelling thousands of kilometres to get there.

Sinosauropteryx, whose name literally means ‘China dragon bird’ was a dinosaur that lived in wide open spaces, judging by its camouflage patterning.

The CRISPR-Cas9 patent war continues, with the Broad Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts providing more information in an effort to protect its eukaryote-specific patent against the University of California, Berkeley.

The AI AlphaGo Zero has learnt to play the ancient Chinese game Go without any human help. It played 4.9 millions games against instead before beating the previous AlphaGo versions.

Mice pups born by Caesarean were found to 33% heavier than those born naturally, linking delivery to obesity with a nod to possible microbial effects.

A very early type of stem cell called EPSC is able to form placental tissue, something which other lab stem cells are not able to do.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has detected a neutron star collision for the first time.

Four genes involved in connecting the brain circuitry have been linked to the development of obsessive compulsive disorder. 

WADA has banned all forms of gene editing amongst athletes, although it is not known how this will be enforced.

Injecting beads covered in WNT3a under the skin of mice being exposed to a chemotherapy drug prevents fur loss.

People reporting experiencing more intense pain when given a drug that they were told is expensive in comparison to those given a cheaper alternative, a finding that could alter the way that doctors discuss treatment plans with their patients. 

Portugal’s wildfires are the worst for over a decade, killing 39 people so far.

This year’s Nobel Prizes have been awarded for discoveries in circadian rhythms, cryo EM and gravitational waves.

Dogs seem to learn new things whilst they’re sleeping, reflecting what is known in humans, and female dogs performed better. 

Taking vitamin D supplements may reduce the risk of asthma attacks.

Wildfires in California have destroyed around 30,000 hectares of vegetation and claimed ten lives so far.

The UK government has announced that sales of ivory should be banned, with exceptions including items purchased by museums.

50 million girls and 74 million boys are thought to be obese worldwide.

Neonicotinoids have been found in homes across the world which suggests that bees are suffering a chronic exposure to the common pesticide.

Mindfullness meditation may increase the thickness of parts of the brain associated with the skills being incorporated into the exercise.

September 2017

Cordelia Fine’s book Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the myths of our gendered minds has won the Royal Society’s prize for science book of the year.

CRISPR is enabling scientists to take another step closer to using pigs for organ transplants by removing surface components that would normally trigger an immune response in the recipient. 

Testosterone Rex HB.inddExperimental vagus nerve stimulation has been used to apparently shift a patient in a vegetative state to one of ‘minimal consciousness’, although there is some dispute amongst experts over interpretation of the results. 

A varient of apoA4 was originally thought to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease via plaques of beta-amyloid, but new evidence suggests that it is actually a different protein, tau, that is responsible. 

A new tablet to treat HIV infection will save South Africa approximately $900 million over a six year period and, with hope to roll it out to 92 countries, signals a change to how HIV/AIDS is treated across the world.

Grad students from Caltech have discovered that jellyfish sleep despite not having a brain, indicating that sleep evolved early in evolutionary time.

Human semen has been found capable of containing over 20 different viruses, although it is not known if they can be spread to another person this way.

There are rumours that a new type of gravitational wave, formed as a result of two neutron stars coming together, has been detected by an experiment called LIGO.

A group of scientists are calling for the status of the snow leopard to be reclassified from endangered to vulnerable, but other conservationists are concerned that this may reduce effort to protect them.

The spaceship Cassini has finished its mission by diving once more into its atmosphere. Keep an eye on the An Anxious Scientist blog for an overview of Cassini’s journey and observations so far.

A large monetary injection is enabling a study of how global warming is affecting the depths of the oceans.

A human trial is being conducted to see if stimulating the brain with an electric current can help kick a cocaine habit.

PETA has begun targeting early career researchers in an attempt to discourage them from working with animals.

A midsized black hole is rumoured to be lurking in the Milky Way, although this still requires more concrete confirmation. 

2,4,6-trinitrophenol, a compound in drug candidates for diabetes and obesity, may strengthen bones and provide a new therapy for age-related conditions.

Donald Trump has selected a politician with controversial views on climate change as the new head of NASA.

Hurricane Harvey could have unforeseen effects on science research as the damage to laboratories still needs to be assessed.

miRNAs in royal jelly could be the ingredient responsible for determining whether a bee becomes a worker or a queen.

The gender balance is out of kilter in Costa Rican crocodiles, with the increase in males possible resulting from the synthetic hormone found in their tissue. 

August 2017

A drug found in asthma inhalers, salbutamol, may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by reducing the alpha-synuclein accumulation.

The US has observed a total solar eclipse, not an infrequent occurrence but unusual for a populated area.

The human microbiome is to be probed for links to autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s.

A genetic mutation that increases the amount of cholesterol in cells results in a greater susceptibility to Salmonella infection.

Studying the hunter-gather group Hadza from Tanzania has suggested that their microbiomes are both more diverse than those from people in Western and also that they seem to vary with the wet and dry seasons, when different food is consumed.

Mosquitoes could be controlled by using an artificial substance that attracts them towards pesticides, designed by separating out the olfactory compounds from natural plant nectar.

It is estimated that 60 million people in Pakistan are exposed to drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic. 

Breast cancer patients who shun conventional treatment in favour of alternative therapy are 5.7 times more likely to die within five years.

Scientists using radar scans to search below the ground have unearthed 91 previously unknown volcanoes hidden under the ice of the West Antarctic.

Cassini, NASA’s spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn, has flown deeper into the planet’s atmosphere than ever before as it begins the final countdown to its crash on 15th September.

Overweight people with healthy stats including a lower cholesterol are still more likely to develop heart disease, dispelling the “fit but fat” myth.

Treatment of activated charcoal, often given in cases of poisoning, may prevent antibiotics from wiping out your gut’s good bacteria.

In a new case of the peppered moth, pollution of the oceans may be the cause of sea snakes turning from black and white to an all black colouring. 

A type of immunotherapy that involves injecting an insulin precursor into a patient may prevent type 1 diabetes from getting worse by training the immune system to recognise the molecule as safe. 

Improving access to malaria tests is reducing the number of people taking antimalarials but may be increasing the use of antibiotics instead.

People with OCD may find that watching someone else carrying out their compulsive behaviours gives a feeling of relief.

Huge wildfires in Greenland have devastated vegetation and are reportedly also burning the peat underneath.

A Google employee has been fired for posting a memo criticising the efforts to increase diversity, stating that biological differences mean that men are better suited to coding jobs than their female colleagues. 

The US has officially submitted its request to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement.

If you live in the north of England then you are 20% more likely to die before you reach 75.

Chip shop favourite cod is now ‘sustainable’ again, although there are fears that Brexit may put it at risk again in the future.

Gay men in England and Scotland will now be able to donate blood nine months earlier than before, after a review of scientific evidence suggests that three months is long enough to detect HIV in a sample.

Injecting mice brains with a boost of stem cells allowed them to live longer, possibly due to an increased release of microRNA.

A blood test could indicate whether a patient is developing Alzheimer’s disease by measuring the amount of beta-amyloid.

July 2017

Ballistics test indicate that silicon breast implants may reduce bullet penetration by approximately 20% by slightly flattening it on impact. 

Women with endometriosis who report higher pain levels may be at an increased risk of infertility.

Objects dated at 65,000 years old have been found in Australia, suggesting humans first appeared there much earlier than previously thought. 

‘Junk DNA’ might still be true amid claims that a large amount of the genome needs to be non-functional to prevent the accumulation of harmful mutations.

The only woman to have won the Fields Medal, mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, has died from cancer at the age of 40.

The rate that life expectancy in England has been rising has fallen by half in the last seven years. 

Juno has taken the closest ever photo of Jupiter’s Red Spot, producing a magnificent image of the huge storm.

The UK government has declared that it wants to reduce the number of smokers down to tell than 12% of adults by 2022.

The risk of schistosomiasis could be increasing as pesticides wipe out insects that eat snails, the host of the parasite during part of its life cycle. 

A pre-existing vaccine for meningitis B might protect against an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhoea after it was found that those already vaccinated were 31% less likely to develop the disease.

In a display of commitment to the Paris climate change agreement, France has pledged to stop the sale of new petrol or diesel cars by 2040. 

A study of over 40,000 people suggests that serious head injuries could greatly increase the risk of developing dementia, a concern in sports such as rugby and boxing. 

CRISPR has been used to encode a GIF of a galloping horse into the DNA of a population of bacteria.

Galloping horses. Shipman et al. (2017). CRISPR-Cas encoding of a digital movie into the genomes of a population of living bacteria. Nature.

Children who sleep less have shorter telomeres, which may increase their risk of developing cancer or cognitive issues later in life.

Healthy bile duct cells grown in the lab have been implanted into mice where they formed a functioning organ, raising hope for those who suffer from bile duct issues.

The death toll from Yemen’s current outbreak of cholera has reached 1500. The ongoing civil war is thought to be a major cause of the spread.

Artificially inducing a loss of smell in lab mice prevents them from becoming obese on a high fat diet, with their weight 16% lower than their wild-type counterparts.

Mitochondrial DNA from a Neanderthal alive approximately 100,000 years ago has been sequenced and analysis suggests that it has similarities from that one modern humans. 

June 2017

Females may not be receiving optimal drug treatment after it was uncovered that male and female mice respond to therapeutics differently; most trials are done on male rodents to avoid fluctuations in the hormone cycle. 

A type of insecticide called neonicotinoids affect certain types of bee in different ways, with some suffering from its toxicity and others remaining unaffected, possibly dependent on the original health of the colony. 

Bacteriophage, a type of virus, have been engineered to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria but its potential as a therapy is still in its infancy.

Analysis of fossilised hippo teeth suggests that a huge expansion of the species is linked closely to changes in food availability.

A 100 million year old baby bird that would have lived during the dinosaur era has been discovered preserved in amber.

A new combination therapy has improved the health of children with cystic fibrosis by increasing the amount of oxygen they can take in.

Scanning the brain of babies may allow doctors to predict the likelihood that they will go on to develop autism later in childhood.

Xing Lida_accessed New Scientist 220617
A baby bird preserved in amber. Image Xing Lida. Accessed New Scientist 22-06-2017.

A huge study has declared that approximately a third of the world’s population are now classed as overweight.

The anti-HIV PrEP has been categorised as an essential medicine by the World Health Organisation despite it being too expensive for the NHS to provide as a preventative.

Theresa May has looked to the Democratic Unionist Party to help her minority Conservative government, but some are concerned about the DUP’s view on evolution and the environment.

Donald Trump has announced that he will pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, sparking concerns that this will affect the efforts to slow down global warming.

The antibiotic vancomycin has been modified successfully, rendering it potent against formally resistant strains of bacteria.

Many clinical studies may contain incorrect data after a study highlighted discrepancies that seem unlikely to have occurred by chance.

A promising new drug for ovarian cancer treatment has reduced the size of tumours in seven women out of a trial of 15.

Consuming even a small amount of alcohol during pregnancy could affect the baby’s facial features as well as their behaviour and IQ.

Blocking noradrenaline may provide a new way to treat people with obsessive compulsive disorder by boosting confidence in decision making.

May 2017

Being ‘fat but fit’ is a myth. People with obesity are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than their slim counterparts, regardless of whether they show the characteristic red flags.

AlphaGo, Google’s AI, has beaten the world’s best Go player, Ke Jie. It will now be pitted against a team of expert players.

An outbreak of Ebola has been announced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but it is hoped that a rapid response will keep it under control.

It could be that flamingos sleep on one leg because it uses less energy than standing on two, possibly due a passive locking of their knee joints.

Male cuttlefish have been videoed fighting over their mates, demonstrating behaviours thought previously to be beyond their mental capabilities.

Super hardy morning glory seeds are potential candidates for a trip to Mars after they were shown to resist very high levels of ultraviolet radiation.

Noise pollution in the US is threatening even secluded spots which could have an impact on the survival of animals by altering their behaviour.

The US National Institutes of Health plans to limit the amount of funding individual scientists can receive in an attempt to even up the playing field for early career researchers.

Changes in the immune profile of tumours have been identified, providing potential targets for personalised therapy.

April 2017

Thousands turned out in cities across the world to March for Science as fears of a ‘post-truth era’ grow.

A group of lambs are progressing normally after spending part of their fetal life in an artificial womb, raising hopes that the Biobag could save the lives of babies born prematurely.

Last Friday the UK went entirely coal-free for 24 hours, the first time this has happened since the Industrial Revolution.

A caterpillar may provide a novel way to reduce plastic waste after a certain species was found to eat its way through a carrier bag, converting it to a compound found in antifreeze.

A study of over 250 000 adults suggests that smoking may increase the genetics-based susceptibility to obesity.

Naked mole rats can survive for over 18 minutes without oxygen, possibly by switching their sugar usage from glucose to fructose, slowing down their metabolism or by having a lower body temperature.

Sources – Science, Nature, New Scientist