Health, Science

Alzheimer’s treatment breakthrough: British scientists pave way for simple pill to cure disease

Scientists have hailed an historic turning point in the search for a medicine that could beat Alzheimer’s disease, after a drug-like compound was used to halt brain cell death in mice for the first time.

Although the prospect of a pill for Alzheimer’s remains a long way off, the landmark British study provides a major new pathway for future drug treatments.

The compound works by blocking a faulty signal in brains affected by neurodegenerative diseases, which shuts down the production of essential proteins, leading to brain cells being unprotected and dying off.

It was tested in mice with prion disease — the best animal model of human neurodegenerative disorders – but scientists said they were confident the same principles would apply in a human brain with debilitating brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

The study, published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was carried out at the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester — via

Health, Science

Ballet dancers’ brains adapt to spins

Ballet dancers develop differences in their brain structures to allow them to perform pirouettes without feeling dizzy, a study has found.

A team from Imperial College London said dancers appear to suppress signals from the inner ear to the brain.

Dancers traditionally use a technique called spotting, which minimises head movement.

The researchers say their findings may help patients who experience chronic dizziness — via

Health, Science

Surgery, radiation and chemo didn’t stop the tumour, but an experimental treatment did

The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Cancer Centre at Duke University has the largest experience on the East Coast with my sort of tumour, so I went there for further consultation and treatment.

As doctors there examined me, it was obvious that my tumour had already grown again; in fact, it had quadrupled in size since my initial chemo and radiation. I was offered several treatments and experimental protocols, one of which involved implanting a modified polio virus into my brain. (This had been very successful in treating GBMs in mice.) Duke researchers had been working on this for 10 years and had just received permission from the FDA to treat 10 patients, but for only one a month. (A Duke press release last May explained that the treatment was designed to capitalize on the discovery that cancer cells have an abundance of receptors that work like magnets in drawing the polio virus, which then infects and kills the cells. The investigational therapy… uses an engineered form of the virus that is lethal to cancer cells, while harmless to normal cells. The therapy is infused directly into a patient’s tumour. The virus-based therapy also triggers the body’s immune system to attack the infected tumour cells) — via

Health, Science

Auto-Brewery Syndrome: Apparently, You Can Make Beer In Your Gut

This medical case may give a whole new meaning to the phrase beer gut.

A 61-year-old man — with a history of home-brewing — stumbled into a Texas emergency room complaining of dizziness. Nurses ran a Breathalyser test. And sure enough, the man’s blood alcohol concentration was a whopping 0.37 percent, or almost five times the legal limit for driving in Texas.

There was just one hitch: The man said that he hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol that day.

He would get drunk out of the blue — on a Sunday morning after being at church, or really, just anytime, says , the dean of nursing at Panola College in Carthage, Texas. His wife was so dismayed about it that she even bought a Breathalyser.

Other medical professionals chalked up the man’s problem to closet drinking. But Cordell and Dr Justin McCarthy, a gastroenterologist in Lubbock, wanted to figure out what was really going on.

So the team searched the man’s belongings for liquor and then isolated him in a hospital room for 24 hours. Throughout the day, he ate carbohydrate-rich foods, and the doctors periodically checked his blood for alcohol. At one point, it rose 0.12 percent.

Eventually, McCarthy and Cordell pinpointed the culprit: an overabundance of brewer’s yeast in his gut.

That’s right, folks. According to Cordell and McCarthy, the man’s intestinal tract was acting like his own internal brewery — via

Health, Science, Technology

Bionic eye testing moves into the field

A backpack computer has been developed to let people test a bionic eye so the implant can be perfected for those needing it.

The bionic eye project aims to give some vision to people who have lost their sight by transmitting images from a pair of glasses which have been fitted with a video camera.

Those images go to the implant, which stimulates the optic nerve.

The prototype computer will simulate the experience for testers and help researchers develop the algorithms required for mobility and orientation.

The head of the wearable computer laboratory at the University of South Australia, Bruce Thomas, says the testing project involves equipment readily available which has been modified and made easy to use for practical medical research — via

Science, Wildlife

Short-haired bumblebee nests in Dungeness

A species of bee reintroduced to the UK after becoming extinct has nested for the first time in a quarter of a century.

The short-haired bumblebee started dying out in Britain in the 1980s and officially became extinct in 2000.

A reintroduction project saw queen bees brought over from Sweden.

After two releases of queens at the RSPB’s Dungeness reserve in Kent, offspring worker bees have been recorded there for the first time.

Short-haired bumblebees were once widespread across the south of England but declined as their wildflower rich grasslands disappeared.

Nikki Gammans, who leads the project, said: This is a milestone for the project and a real victory for conservation.

We now have proof that this bumblebee has nested and hatched young and we hope it is on the way to become a self-supporting wild species in the UK — via


Ig Nobel award winners include dung beetle and beer goggle researchers

The Improbable Research Nobel Prize Award ceremony was held at Harvard Thursday night to award this year’s scientific projects that make people laugh, then make them think, as the organisers, the Annals of Improbable Research, put it.

The awards, held every year since 1991, are meant to raise the question: How do you decide what’s important and what’s not, and what’s real and what’s not — in science and everywhere else?, write the organisers. And, each year, the awards do just that, lofting projects unlikely to win a real Nobel Prize into the scientific limelight in a zany show that asks the question, why is this science so uproarious? — via

Health, Science

Early trials begin for experimental implant that trains immune system to kill melanoma cells

An experimental vaccine implant to treat skin cancer has begun early trials in humans, as part of a growing effort to train the immune system to fight tumours.

The approach, which was shown to work in lab mice in 2009, involves placing a fingernail-sized sponge under the skin, where it reprograms a patient’s immune cells to find cancerous melanoma cells and kill them.

It is rare to get a new technology tested in the laboratory and moved into human clinical trials so quickly, said Glenn Dranoff, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and part of the research team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University — via

Science, Wildlife

Rock rat rediscovered in central Australia

The elusive rock rat, last seen trying to get into a stockman’s lunchbox in 1960, has been rediscovered in central Australia.

One of Australia’s rarest creatures, the critically endangered rat, which was not seen in the area for more than half a century, was found during a survey using remote sensor cameras on the Haasts Bluff Aboriginal land trust west of Alice Springs.

Evidence was also found of the rare black-footed wallaby, which has not been seen in the area since 1991.

The rock rat was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the west MacDonnell ranges in 2002, but finding it in another area that isn’t protected is huge news, Richard Brittingham, regional land management officer with the Central Land Council said.

This species is obviously persisting in other areas outside of national parks, which is an important consideration in long-term conservation — via


New Giant Volcano Below Sea Is Largest in the World

A volcano the size of New Mexico or the British Isles has been identified under the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) east of Japan, making it the biggest volcano on Earth and one of the biggest in the solar system.

Called Tamu Massif, the giant shield volcano had been thought to be a composite of smaller structures, but now scientists say they must rethink long-held beliefs about marine geology.

This finding goes against what we thought, because we found that it’s one huge volcano, said William Sager, a geology professor at the University of Houston in Texas. Sager is lead author in a study about the find that was published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience.

It is in the same league as Olympus Mons on Mars, which had been considered to be the largest volcano in the solar system, Sager told National Geographic — via

Fast moving snails spread deadly dog disease across UK

Despite their lethargic reputations, snails can travel at a relatively speedy one metre per hour, say researchers.

By attaching multicoloured LED lights, the scientists were able to track their movements over a 24-hour period.

The gastropods were fast enough to explore the length of an average UK garden in a single night.

But scientists are worried that the fast-moving snails are spreading a parasite that is deadly for dogs.

Over the past few years the wet summers enjoyed across the UK have proved the ideal breeding grounds for snails.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, their numbers increased by 50% last year.

As well as being a pest for gardeners, snails can also spread a parasite called Angiostrongylus vasorum.

This lungworm is a particular threat to dogs, which can become infected by accidentally eating slugs or snails which they come across in the garden or on dog toys — via

New Zealand vet saves cat using dog blood in a rare inter-species transfusion

A New Zealand vet has successfully saved a poisoned cat by administering blood from a dog in a rare inter-species transfusion.

Cat owner Kim Edwards was frantic last week when her ginger tom Rory went limp after eating rat poison and rushed the ailing cat to her local veterinary clinic at Tauranga in the North Island for help.

Vet Kate Heller said the feeble feline was fading fast and needed an immediate transfusion to survive, but there was not enough time to send a sample to the laboratory for testing to determine the cat’s blood type.

Instead, she decided to take a gamble and use dog’s blood to try to save the animal, knowing it would die instantly if she gave it the wrong type.

Ms Edwards called up her friend, Michelle Whitmore, who volunteered her black Labrador Macy as a doggie-blood donor in a last-ditch attempt to save Rory.

It was a procedure Dr Heller said she had never performed before and was very rare — via

Crowdfunded cups and straws quickly detect invisible date rape drugs

The odorless and tasteless nature of date rape drugs can make them impossible for victims to detect before it’s too late. But soon your drinking glass may able to warn you if dangerous chemicals have been slipped into your cocktail. Next month, DrinkSavvy will begin shipping plastic cups and straws that change colour if a drink contains GHB, Rohypnol or Ketamine, three drugs commonly used for spiking purposes. The effort began with a successful $50,000 Indiegogo campaign led by company founder Michael Abramson — who himself was once unknowingly “roofied” during a night out with friend — via

When Power Goes To Your Head, It May Shut Out Your Heart

Even the smallest dose of power can change a person. You’ve probably seen it. Someone gets a promotion or a bit of fame and then, suddenly, they’re a little less friendly to the people beneath them.

So here’s a question that may seem too simple: Why?

If you ask a psychologist, he or she may tell you that the powerful are simply too busy. They don’t have the time to fully attend to their less powerful counterparts.

But if you ask Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, he might give you another explanation: Power fundamentally changes how the brain operates.

Obhi and his colleagues, Jeremy Hogeveen and Michael Inzlicht, have a showing evidence to support that claim — via

Queensland Health raises alarm over homeopath’s immunisation claim

Queensland’s chief health officer, Jeannette Young, is investigating a homoeopath who allegedly convinced a mother his treatment would immunise her child.

Dr Young told ABC’s 7.30 Queensland the mother was convinced her child was vaccinated until she was asked about it by a doctor at the Mater Hospital.

The mother said ‘yes, my child is fully vaccinated, I believe in vaccination, but the person who vaccinated my child said that if you were to test my child you wouldn’t find any evidence because it’s a different sort of vaccination’, Dr Young said.

The doctor explored that with the child’s mother and worked out that a homoeopath had told the mother that he had vaccinated the child when clearly the child had not been vaccinated.

The mother thought she had done the right thing and wanted to do the right thing by her child and believed this healthcare provider, who misled her.

Some homoeopaths offer a treatment called homoeopathic prophylaxis which aims to strengthen a person’s immune system, but public health authorities say there is no evidence it works — via

Canine cancer vaccine could be trialled on humans: researchers

Researchers say a new cancer vaccine that appears to be helping dogs could soon be used in human trials.

The vaccine, developed by researchers at Sydney’s Kolling Institute, has been trialled on almost 30 dogs with advanced melanoma, bone cancer and liver cancer.

Early results found the vaccine not only slowed the growth of the original tumour but also helped to prevent more developing.

Dr Chris Weir, who developed the vaccine, said the anecdotal results are promising — via

Faster Than the Speed of Light?

Harold G White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA, beckoned toward a table full of equipment there on a recent afternoon: a laser, a camera, some small mirrors, a ring made of ceramic capacitors and a few other objects.

He and other NASA engineers have been designing and redesigning these instruments, with the goal of using them to slightly warp the trajectory of a photon, changing the distance it travels in a certain area, and then observing the change with a device called an interferometer. So sensitive is their measuring equipment that it was picking up myriad earthly vibrations, including people walking nearby. So they recently moved into this lab, which floats atop a system of underground pneumatic piers, freeing it from seismic disturbances.

The team is trying to determine whether faster-than-light travel — warp drive — might someday be possibles — via

Embryonic stem cells could help restore sight to blind

Scientists have shown that light-sensitive retinal cells, grown in the lab from stem cells, can successfully integrate into the eye when implanted into blind mice. The technique opens up the possibility that a similar treatment could help people who have become blind through damage to their retinas to regain some of their sight.

Loss of light-sensitive nerve cells, known as photoreceptors, is a major cause of blindness in conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and diabetes-related blindness. These conditions affect many thousands of people in the UK alone and there is no effective treatment at present. Scientists have been exploring the possibility of somehow replacing the photoreceptors, which come in two types: rods that help us see in low light conditions, and cones, which help us differentiate colours.

Robin Ali at University College London’s Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital has previously shown that transplanting immature rod cells from the retinas of very young mice can restore vision in blind adult mice. It was a neat proof of concept, but the technique as it stood would be impractical as a way to treat people.

His latest work got around the problems of sourcing donor photoreceptor cells by growing and differentiating them from embryonic stem cells in a culture dish, rather than taking the cells from young mice. The donor photoreceptors developed normally once inside the adult mouse eyes and, crucially, formed nerve connections with the brain. The results are published on Sunday in the journal Nature Biotechnology — via

The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements

On 10 October 2011, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that women who took supplemental multivitamins died at rates higher than those who didn’t. Two days later, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who took vitamin E had an increased risk of prostate cancer. It’s been a tough week for vitamins, said Carrie Gann of ABC News.

These findings weren’t new. Seven previous studies had already shown that vitamins increased the risk of cancer and heart disease and shortened lives. Still, in 2012, more than half of all Americans took some form of vitamin supplements. What few people realize, however, is that their fascination with vitamins can be traced back to one man. A man who was so spectacularly right that he won two Nobel Prizes and so spectacularly wrong that he was arguably the world’s greatest quack — via

World’s oldest calendar discovered in Scottish field

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the world’s oldest lunar calendar in an Aberdeenshire field.

Excavations of a field at Crathes Castle found a series of 12 pits which appear to mimic the phases of the moon and track lunar months.

A team led by the University of Birmingham suggests the ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago.

The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004.

The experts who analysed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post.

The Mesolithic calendar is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.

The analysis has been published in the journal, Internet Archaeology — via

Planting mangrove trees pays off for coastal communities in Kenya

When Kahindi Charo gathered 30 of his friends to replant mangroves in the 32 square kilometre (12 square mile) Mida Creek area, people in his village of Dabaso in Kilifi County dismissed them as crazy idlers.

Charo recalls that back then, in 2000, the creek had suffered badly from unregulated harvesting that had left the area bare, with rotting stumps and patches of old mangrove trees.

Today, Mida Creek, about 60 km (38 miles) north of Mombasa, flourishes with dense mangrove plantations that provide a habitat for birds, fish, and crabs. There is also a boardwalk leading to a 12-seat eco-restaurant perched beside the Indian Ocean — via

Mindscapes: First man to hear people before they speak

PH is the first confirmed case of someone who hears people speak before registering the movement of their lips. His situation is giving unique insights into how our brains unify what we hear and see.

It’s unclear why PH’s problem started when it did — but it may have had something to do with having acute pericarditis, inflammation of the sac around the heart, or the surgery he had to treat it.

Brain scans after the timing problems appeared showed two lesions in areas thought to play a role in hearing, timing and movement. Where these came from is anyone’s guess, says PH. They may have been there all my life or as a result of being in intensive care — via

Glowing tags to reveal hidden prints

Scientists have described a new system for visualising hidden crime scene fingerprints.

Despite several enhancement techniques already in use, only about 10% of fingerprints from crime scenes are of sufficient quality to be used in court.

The technique is based around fluorescent chemical tags and works on metal surfaces, meaning it could be used on knives, guns or bullet casings.

Details were outlined at the Faraday Discussions lecture series in Durham.

Notwithstanding DNA, fingerprints are still the major source of identification in criminal investigations, co-author Prof Robert Hillman, from the University of Leicester, told BBC News.

When someone asks: ‘Haven’t we been doing this for a century, why do we need another method?’ Our answer is: ‘To image the 90% we don’t currently get’ — via

Cousins who marry doubles risk for babies

First cousins who marry run twice the risk of having a child with genetic abnormalities, according to the findings of a study based on the English city of Bradford.

The city, which has a high proportion of South Asian immigrants and their descendants among its population, served as a microcosm for examining the risk of blood relative couplings.

About 37 per cent of marriages among people of Pakistani origin in the study involved first cousins, compared with less than one per cent of British unions, said the researchers.

University of Leeds investigator Eamonn Sheridan led a team that pored over data from the Born in Bradford study, which tracks the health of 13,500 babies born at the city’s main hospital between 2007 and 2011.

Out of 11,396 babies for whom family details were known, 18 per cent were the offspring of first-cousin unions, mainly among people of Pakistani heritage.

A total of 386 babies — three per cent — were born with anomalies ranging from problems in the nervous, respiratory and digestive systems, to urinary and genital defects and cleft palates.

This Bradford rate was nearly twice the national average, said the study published in medical journal The Lancet — via

Modern-day Frankenstein invents cure for beheading

Italian scientists claim they have invented a method for carrying out a head transplant — a discovery that could prove life-changing for patients suffering from hitherto incurable diseases.

Boffins at the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group claim to have devised a new way to have devised a new way to connect the brain to the spinal column.

The technique is useful for anyone who wants a new head — which might prove a bit difficult to enjoy — or fancies a new body. It draws upon the research of Robert White, who in 1970 transplanted of the head of one rhesus monkey onto the body of another. Sadly, the monkeys didn’t live for very long with their new heads in place, but the Italian researchers are optimistic nonetheless — via

Pluto Has Moons From Hell

To hell with Pluto’s new moons.

Figuratively, of course. But two newly discovered moons orbiting the distant world now have official (and underworldly) names: Kereberos and Styx.

I approve.

Pluto is pretty small — 2,300 kilometres (1,430 miles) in diameter, smaller than Earth’s Moon — so it may be surprising it has moons at all. But it has gravity, and it can hold on to smaller bodies … and there’s plenty of room out there, billions of kilometres from the Sun, so there’s nothing big enough out there to strip them away, either.

Pluto’s biggest moon is Charon, which is just over half as big as Pluto itself. That’s the biggest moon known relative to its parent world! It was discovered in 1978. In 2005, Hubble observations unveiled two more moons, which were named Nyx and Hydra. A fourth moon, provisionally named P4, was found in 2011 and then P5 in 2012.

Get the trend? All the moons are named after characters associated with the Roman god of Pluto, god of the underworld Hades. Charon was the riverboat driver who brought the dead to Hades. Nix is named after Nyx, the goddess of the night, sometimes depicted as a mist that comes from the underworld. (The name is spelled with an i to avoid confusion with an asteroid with that name.) Hydra was a nine-headed dragon that lived in a cave near the entrance to the underworld (and the nine heads were a sly reference to Pluto being the ninth planet).

Kerberos is the name of the three-headed dog guarding the underworld, usually spelled Cerberus (but again, this name was already taken by an asteroid). Styx was the river separating the underworld from the realm of mortals and also a 1970s rock band. That last bit may be coincidence — via

Malaria vaccine set for human trials

The search for a malaria vaccine could soon be over, after an Australian-led trial has proven successful on mice.

The results, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, saw mice develop immunity to  multiple strains of the disease.

We found that if you take blood stage parasite in red blood cells and treat it with a chemical that binds the DNA and then administer that as a vaccine to mice, and you can get protection against the strain, they’ll be immunised, says Griffith University’s Jennifer Reiman, one of the authors of the study.

The vaccine is now ready for human trials, and researchers are hoping adult males in South-East Queensland might be willing volunteers.

If that turns out to be safe then we can go on and do clinical trials in areas where there’s malaria, Ms Reiman says — via

World’s first telescopic contact lens gives you Superman-like vision

An international team of researchers have created the first telescopic contact lens; a contact lens that, when it’s equipped, gives you the power to zoom your vision almost three times. Yes, this is the first ever example of a bionic eye that effectively gives you Superman-like eagle-eye vision.

…the telescopic contact lens has two very distinct regions. The centre of the lens allows light to pass straight through, providing normal vision. The outside edge, however, acts as a telescope capable of magnifying your sight by 2.8x. This is about the same as looking through a 100mm lens on a DSLR. For comparison, a pair of bird-watching binoculars might have a magnification of 15x. The examples shown in the image below give you a good idea of what a 2.8x optical zoom would look like in real life.

The telescopic contact lens, in action

The main breakthrough is that this telescopic contact lens is just 1.17mm thick, allowing it to be comfortably worn. Other attempts at granting telescopic vision have included: a 4.4mm-thick contact lens (too thick for real-world use), telescopic spectacles (cumbersome and ugly), and most recently a telescopic lens implanted into the eye itself. The latter is currently the best option currently available, but it requires surgery and the image quality isn’t excellent — via

Cortex 3D-printed cast for fractured bones by Jake Evill

Cortex 3D-printed cast for fractured bones by Jake Evill

Cortex 3D-printed cast for fractured bones by Jake Evill

3D-printed casts for fractured bones could replace the usual bulky, itchy and smelly plaster or fibreglass ones in this conceptual project by Victoria University of Wellington graduate Jake Evill.

The prototype Cortex cast is lightweight, ventilated, washable and thin enough to fit under a shirt sleeve.

A patient would have the bones x-rayed and the outside of the limb 3D-scanned. Computer software would then determine the optimum bespoke shape, with denser support focussed around the fracture itself.

The polyamide pieces would be printed on-site and clip into place with fastenings that can’t be undone until the healing process is complete, when they would be taken off with tools at the hospital as normal. Unlike current casts, the materials could then be recycled.

At the moment, 3D printing of the cast takes around three hours whereas a plaster cast is three to nine minutes, but requires 24-72 hours to be fully set, says the designer. With the improvement of 3D printing, we could see a big reduction in the time it takes to print in the future — via

Type 1 diabetes vaccine hailed as significant step

It may be possible to reverse type 1 diabetes by training a patient’s own immune system to stop attacking their body, an early trial suggests.

Their immune system destroys the cells that make insulin, the hormone needed to control blood sugar levels.

A study in 80 patients, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, showed a vaccine could retrain their immune system.

Experts described the results as a significant step.

Normally a vaccine teaches the immune system to attack bacteria or viruses that cause disease, such as the polio virus.

Researchers at the Stanford University Medical Centre used a vaccine with the opposite effect – to make the immune system cease its assault.

In patients with type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys beta cells in the pancreas. This means the body is unable to produce enough insulin and regular injections of the hormone are needed throughout life.

It is a different disease to type 2 diabetes, which can be caused by an unhealthy diet.

The vaccine was targeted to the specific white blood cells which attack beta cells. After patients were given weekly injections for three months, the levels of those white blood cells fell — via

Obituary: Mick Aston

Archaeologist and broadcaster Mick Aston, who found fame with TV programme Time Team, has died aged 66.

Close friend and former colleague Phil Harding, who also worked on the popular Channel 4 series, said he had received the news from Professor Aston’s son James.

Time Team’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts also paid tribute to the retired academic: It is with a very heavy heart that we’ve been informed that our dear colleague Mick Aston has passed away. Our thoughts are with his family.

Dr Harding said that although his friend had suffered health problems, learning of his death just two weeks after talking to him on the phone for the last time had come as a shock.

It just seems so incredible, like a bad dream, but unfortunately this is no dream, the 62-year-old said. He was a seriously good mate and a seriously good archaeologist, a unique man. Everybody loved him, he just had a way with people. I cannot believe there was anybody who disliked him, he just had such a relaxed way.

He had incredible knowledge and an effortless way of making archaeology accessible to people — via

Nerve cells re-grown in rats after spinal injury

US scientists say they have made progress in repairing spinal cord injuries in paralysed rats.

Rats regained some bladder control after surgery to transplant nerve cells into the spinal cord, combined with injections of a cocktail of chemicals.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, could raise hopes for one day treating paralysed patients.

But UK experts say it will take several years of research before human clinical trials can be considered — via

Pee a Rainbow: Scientist Snaps Shot of Colourful Urine

Pee a Rainbow: Scientist Snaps Shot of Colourful Urine

Pee the Rainbow
Pee the Rainbow, originally uploaded by Heather West.

From red to blue to violet, all the colours of the rainbow appear regularly in urine tests conducted at hospital labs.

The prismatic pee collection seen in this stunning photo took only a week to assemble for medical laboratory scientists at Tacoma General Hospital in Tacoma, Washington. Heather West, the laboratory scientist who snapped the picture at the hospital, said she and her colleagues collected the urine colours to highlight their fascinating behind-the-scenes work.

My picture was intended to illustrate both the incredible and unexpected things the human body is capable of, the curiosity in science, and also the beauty that can be found in unexpected places, West said. A mix between art and science — via

Breakthrough could prevent superbug infections forming on medical implants

Scientists say new research into the behaviour of superbug bacteria could help prevent life-threatening infections forming on medically implanted devices.

Drug-resistant bacteria such as golden staph can cause infections on devices like catheters, pacemakers and joint replacements that are notoriously difficult to treat.

A team of researchers from Sydney’s University of Technology say they have discovered how the bacteria behaves and why it spreads so quickly.

The research has just been published in the prestigious US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. — via

Welcome our giant titanium insect overlords

Welcome our giant titanium insect overlords

Giant Titanium Bugs / CSIRO

What started out as an art project using the Australian think-tank the CSIRO’s additive titanium 3D printer has turned out to have much more serious application: scaled-up versions of microscopic bugs that make it easier to study their biology.

Originally, the minute insects from the Australian National Insect Collection were scanned, scaled up and printed for a national art exhibition. As CSIRO Science Art fellow Eleanor Gates-Stuart explained: “We combined science and art to engage the public and through the process we’ve discovered that 3D printing could be the way of the future for studying these creatures.”

The process is actually pretty straightforward: the bugs were scanned to produce the CAD files that the printer worked with.

A print run takes about 10 hours, producing a dozen bugs at a time — via

Ocean Plastics Host Surprising Microbial Array

A surprising suite of microbial species colonizes plastic waste floating in the ocean, according to a new study. These microbes could speed the plastic’s breakdown but might also cause their own ecological problems, the researchers say (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2013, DOI: 10.1021/es401288x).

Plastic waste from consumer products often finds its way into the oceans in a range of sizes, from microscopic particles to large chunks. This accumulation of plastic worries environmental scientists. For example, fish and marine mammals can mistake the plastic pieces for food and ingest the debris, or toxic chemicals can leach from the plastics.

But much still remains unknown about the ecological impacts of these materials. So a group of Massachusetts researchers, led by Linda A Amaral-Zettler at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Tracy J Mincer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, decided to study the microbial communities found on plastics to explore how the organisms affect marine environments — via

Could a 2,000-Year-Old Recipe for Cement Be Superior to Our Own?

The Romans didn’t invent concrete, but they did establish its versatility. The structural ingenuity of the Baths of Caracalla, the Pont du Gard and the Pantheon would not be surpassed for a thousand years.

But if the dazzling concrete curves and cantilevers of modern architecture have matched the Romans’ for style and structure, today’s standard recipe, 2,000 years later, remains in some ways inferior.

New research into Pozzolanic cement, so named for the corner of the Bay of Naples where the ash of Mount Vesuvius facilitated its creation, shows the advantages of the Roman method. Their mixture for hydraulic concrete, a blend of volcanic ash and lime, has a tougher molecular structure than its modern equivalent. It’s unusually resistant to fragmenting and nearly immune to the corrosion caused by salt water. That’s why Roman jetties and port structures have weathered two salty millennia, while our maritime concrete creations degrade within a matter of decades.

So why aren’t we doing as the Romans did?

For one thing, the methods largely vanished with the fall of Rome. They really haven’t been examined at a very fine scale until now, says Marie Jackson, one of the researchers who has been studying the molecular composition of Roman seawater concrete. There’s been a general lack of knowledge about what the Roman model could produce — via

Bionic eye prototype unveiled by Victorian scientists and designers

A team of Australian industrial designers and scientists have unveiled their prototype for the world’s first bionic eye.

It is hoped the device, which involves a microchip implanted in the skull and a digital camera attached to a pair of glasses, will allow recipients to see the outlines of their surroundings.

If successful, the bionic eye has the potential to help over 85 per cent of those people classified as legally blind.

With trials beginning next year, Monash University’s Professor Mark Armstrong says the bionic eye should give recipients a degree of extra mobility — via

Frog Long Thought Extinct Is Rediscovered in Israel

Israeli park ranger Yoram Malka caught only a fleeting glimpse of the frog as it leapt across the road, but he knew it was something special.

When he first saw the frog in northern Israel’s Hula Valley, Malka jerked his utility vehicle to a stop, bounded out of his seat, and jumped atop it, catching the creature in his hands.

The animal had a mottled backside and a black belly with white dots. It belonged to a species that most scientists thought had disappeared from the Earth more than half a century ago.

In fact, the Hula painted frog was the first amphibian to officially be declared extinct, in 1996. Prior to Malka’s 2011 encounter, the animal had not been spotted alive in nearly 60 years.

When Sarig Gafny, a river ecologist at Israel’s Ruppin Academic Centre, received Malka’s cell phone picture of the frog, he recalled that everything fell out of my hands.

I forgot about my fever, jumped into my car, and drove two hours north to see it, said Gafny, the co-author of a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications detailing the frog’s rediscovery — via

Extinct reptile named for lizard king Jim Morrison

An extinct plant-eating reptile that roamed the steamy forests of South-east Asia some 40 million years ago has been named for Doors front man Jim Morrison.

Jason Head, a palaeontologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his colleagues describe the reptile — named Barbaturex morrisoni — this week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It  lived in the strange days when the Earth’s poles were ice-free and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were nearly twice what they are today, and, at six feet long and upwards of 60 pounds, it was one of the largest known lizards ever to walk on land.

B morrisoni’s remains had been waiting for the sun a long time. The giant lizard’s remains were unearthed in Myanmar — a country located between the Horse Latitudes — in the 1970s, but they languished at the University of California Museum of Palaeontology until a few years ago, when Head and his team began examining them — via

Immune training MS trial safe

An experimental treatment to stop the body attacking its own nervous system in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) appears safe in trials.

The sheath around nerves cells, made of myelin, is destroyed in MS, leaving the nerves struggling to pass on messages.

A study on nine patients, reported in Science Translational Medicine, tried to train the immune system to cease its assault on myelin.

The MS Society said the idea had exciting potential.

As nerves lose their ability to talk to each other, the disease results in problems moving and balancing and can affect vision.

There are drugs that can reduce number and severity of attacks, but there is no cure — via

Ape-like feet found in study of museum visitors

Scientists have discovered that about one in thirteen people have flexible ape-like feet.

A team studied the feet of 398 visitors to the Boston Museum of Science.

The results show differences in foot bone structure similar to those seen in fossils of a member of the human lineage from two million years ago.

It is hoped the research, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, will establish how that creature moved.

Apes like the chimpanzee spend a lot of their time in trees, so their flexible feet are essential to grip branches and allow them to move around quickly — but how most of us ended up with more rigid feet remains unclear.

Jeremy DeSilva from Boston University and a colleague asked the museum visitors to walk barefoot and observed how they walked by using a mechanised carpet that was able to analyse several components of the foot — via