Saturday, May 18, 2013

Week in Science: Would you eat test-tube meat?

Week in Science: Would you eat test-tube meat?

Week in Science: Would you eat test-tube meat?

This week we've seen a pilotless passenger-plane hit the British skies, the last barrier to human cloning be breached, and we've found a large cache of water, untouched by the rest of the world for at least one billion years, buried 1.5 miles deep within the Earth.

And as if that wasn't enough, the world's first lab-grown burger made from bovine neck stem cells in a petri dish will hit the grill of an undisclosed London location.

Which makes us beg the question - could you stomach test-tube meat?

First lab-grown burger ready for tasting -- A record-breaking taste test will soon be underwa y in London when the world's first laboratory-grown burger will be cooked and eaten. The meat, which is grown from cow neck stem cells invitro under carefully controlled conditions, costs over £210,000. And that makes it one of the most expensive pieces of meat ever cooked. While the quantity of burgers available and venue are currently unknown, the researchers behind the cowless beef say it tastes "reasonably good". It might be a while before lab-burgers hit your local takeaway though. [The Register]

First pilotless passenger-plane manages 800km journey over Britain -- We've seen many unmanned military drones make their way to the skies, but now a passenger plane has managed to fly itself - completely pilotless - from Lancashire to Scotland through civilian airspace without a hitch.

A flesh-and-blood pilot took the controls for take-off and landing, with the plane flying fully autonomously in between. Not only that, but the plane was thrown dummy obstacles to avoid, with fake planes being entered into its flight data, forcing it to make flight-path corrections in the same way a real pilot would. The next step is to construct a digital eyeball capable of discerning complex objects, like the difference between a hot-air balloon and a cloud, but soon UAVs could be free to roam our skies. [New Scientist]

Astronauts take a trip into the void of space to fix leaking pump -- While NASA does have a few robots up in space to do its bidding, there are some things that real men still have to do. Two astronauts were forced into an impromptu EVA to replace a pump on the outside of the ISS, which was leaking ammonia into space and threatening t he operation of one of the solar power generators. Thankfully everything was fixed without issue, but not before providing some amazing new images. Sometimes, even in the technological age of space stations, you still need a good old screwdriver and wrench. [NASA]


The last barrier to human cloning has been breached -- For the first time scientists have managed to clone a human stem cell, meaning that human cloning is now fully possible. Ever since Dolly the sheep became the first cloned animal, researchers have been using human stem cells to try and clone human cells, treading a very thing ethical line.

Now, via a similar process to the cloning of Dolly the sheep, nuclear transf er has been perfected in humans. Simply by taking the nucleus of one foetal stem cell and inserting it into an egg cell with its own DNA removed, you produce a clone cell that can then divide and grow as normal. Years of research and careful tweaks to the biochemical process have made this breakthrough possible, meaning we could now actually make a full-formed human clone, not that anyone is suggesting we do that, of course. Instead, this new source of cells will pave the way for possible repair of tissue and organ damage in degenerative diseases, as well as medical studies on human cell lines that weren't possible before. The hope is that the same technique can be used to produce cells from adult stem cells soon too. [Nature]

Malaria boosts mosquito sense of smell -- Researchers have discovered that the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, actually enhanc es the host mosquito's sense of smell making them bite humans more often. In fact, in a recent study, infected mosquitoes were three-times more likely to bite a human, simply from the odour of said human's feet. In the wild, that super-sense of smell allows the enhanced spread of the parasite, but more over, shows how the parasite can cause real, physical and neurological changes in the host. Now all we need is a way to block that change, or a way to mask the particular chemical signature that mosquitoes lock onto. [PLoS One]


Water untouched for 1 billion years could hold clue to formation of life -- Scientists in Ontario, Canada, have discovered free-flowing water, 1.5 miles below the Earth's surface that has been isolated from the world for at least 1 billion years, possibly even as long as 2.6 billion years.

The water contains both methane and hydrogen, two key components in the formation of life. Now researchers are carefully studying samples of the water for evidence of microbial life, which could have a massive impact on our theories of life on other planets, and life on Mars, deep below the barren landscape. [Nature]


Alligators replace their pearly whites once a year -- Alligators house about 80 teeth in their snappers, and new research has shown that they replace them all about once a year. Through molecular analysis and X-ray imaging, scientists discovered that alligators have a band of tooth stem cells that sit within their jaws, pumping out replacement teeth on command.

When an alligator loses a tooth, a whole host of chemicals instruct the stem cells to produce a new replacement, with each new tooth actually forming a family unit consisting of the main tooth, a replacement bud and the band of dental tissue. There's hope that, through analysis of the chemical composition of the tooth-growing trigger, we could induce the same effect within our own jaws, which carry remnants of dental stem cells too. One day the dentist could simply inject your gum with a cocktail of chemicals, inducing new teeth to grow and push out the old ones, just like when you were a child. [PNAS]


Fish are packing up and moving on because of the heat -- Global warming isn't just causing hotter weather on land, it's also increasing the temperature of large swaths of our oceans. Now it's been discovered that many fish populations are migrating out of their traditional habitats into cooler waters, impacting on diversity in these areas and reducing fish stocks. Combined with overfishing, it's rapidly depleting whole sections of historically highly-populated parts of the oceans, which is seriously bad news for costal regions that rely on fish for their livelihoods. [Nature]



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