Monthly Archives: August 2014
King of Gore
The Natural History Museum of Utah recently announced that a recently found dinosaur fossil of Lythronax argestes is a new branch of the tyrannosaur family tree. It weighed 2 tons, and was over 24 feet long. Lythronax evolved over 10 million years before other tyrannosaurs, changing our understanding of dinosaur evolution.
Lythronax was only one of a bunch of new dinosaur fossils discovered at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Early metabolism didn’t need cells
Metabolism. In a cellular context, it means the chemical reactions that happen in cells that help keep it alive. These reactions are fairly complex, and for a long time we thought that they could only happen inside cells, which kind of leads to a chicken or the egg kind of paradox. Now, scientists have found that it is relatively simple to have metabolic reactions happen outside of cells.
RNA is used to make proteins. And you need these proteins to do things with RNA. But these experiments show that you don’t need RNA to get the metabolic reactions happening. They could have happened in the Earth’s early oceans.
By starting with what we think the Earth’s early oceans would have, along with the starting chemicals for metabolic reactions, then heating it to 50° to 70° C for 5 hours, they were able to produce 29 different metabolic reactions. These included glycolysis and the pentose phosphate pathway, which are needed for production of ATP.
This helps scientists understand abiogenesis, how life first started. It takes out the requirement for a cell to form with all of the necessary chemistry along with it out of whole cloth. The chemistry is capable of working before the first cell formed. The part we don’t understand yet is where the starting chemicals came from. We don’t know how they could have formed yet. But we’re getting closer.
New brain-like tissue made
Scientists studying the brain have managed to grow neurons on petri dishes for a while, but they don’t connect the way real neurons do because the ones in a dish grow in a fundamentally 2D environment, and regular brains are fundamentally 3D.
Now, researchers at Tufts University in Boston have made a 3D scaffold that allows neurons to connect more realistically. It has grey matter / white matter compartmentalization, which means that the structure is more similar to real brains. It can also last longer, up to two months in labs.
This new tissue can let scientists study brain biology in more detail. They can see what happens to nearby cells when there is trauma. They can also see the effects of administering drugs more easily.
Quantum Entanglement video
Here’s a good Ted video on Quantum Mechanics, specifically, Quantum Entanglement.
However, there are some things that you should keep in mind. I know that someone will say “sure I can tell if the cat is alive or not without opening the box. Just listen for the bomb.”. In the original thought experiment, there is a vial of poisonous gas, a Geiger counter, and a radioactive source. If the Geiger counter detects radiation, it will break the vial (killing the cat). After one hour, there is a 50% chance that this will happen. The bomb version is easier to understand, but you have to realize that you can’t detect if the bomb has exploded or not.
Also, for the entanglement to work, you have to set things up very carefully to make the entanglement happen. You can’t just grab 2 atoms and have them be entangled.
Promising new spaceship drive
NASA has recently tested a new type of drive that may be used in future spaceships. The Cannae Drive is unique in that it doesn’t use propellant. Since propellant (fuel) has mass, normal drives need to move the spacecraft and the propellant for future thrust. This leads to needing lots of mass, frequently as much as the payload.
But the Cannae Drive is different. It uses microwaves instead of propellant. By bouncing microwaves in a specially shaped container, they have managed to create a difference in radiation pressure, generating between 30-50 micronewtons. This is a very small amount of thrust. The only energy that is needed is electricity, which is readily available through solar panels.
This technology is in its infancy, and is a long way from being used in spacecraft.
I love this kind of thing because it appears to violate the Law of Conservation of Momentum (simpler). This means that we’re at the edge where our understanding of the way the universe works may be wrong. Our scientific understanding may have to change to account for this effect.
Potential cancer drug from a cat parasite
Toxoplasma gondii is a single celled parasite that lives in a cat’s intestine. While it prefers felines, it can live in humans and other animals. In fact, about 1/3 of humans are hosts to it. Normally this isn’t a problem, but it is for people with suppressed immune systems. The interesting thing is that a human body’s reaction to T. gondii is similar to its response to cancer tumors.
This leads to the idea that perhaps this parasite can be used as a cancer therapy. T. gondii stimulates the body’s immune system to fight cancer. While cancer can shut down the immune system, T. gondii stimulates it. Scientists have created a version of the parasite that can be grown in a lab, but can’t grow in animals/people. This may lead to an effective cancer drug that helps the body fight the disease.