SciTech Briefs

Geneticist labeled ‘mad scientist’ over Neanderthal cloning

Harvard geneticist George Church was labeled a “mad scientist” for allegedly seeking a female human to bear a cloned Neanderthal baby. Church, however, claims he only theorized that studying cloned Neanderthals can help scientists better understand how the human mind works. He is blaming the public backlash on a lack of scientific literacy. “The public should be able to detect cases where things seem implausible,” Church said.

Despite media opposition, he continues to speak publicly about his research, focusing on using genes extracted from Neanderthal DNA to treat and prevent diseases. These experiments raise ethical questions, like whether the clones will be treated as subjects or individuals.

Source: Reuters

Adélie penguins: Cool, efficient killing machines

Nobody would suspect that Adélie penguins are silent assassins because of their comical waddling and bobbing on the surface of the sea. According to Yuuki Watanabe, a researcher at Japan’s National Institute, the penguins have an amazing stealth mode and attack to hunt down their prey. Tiny swarms of shrimp can wiggle their bodies in an attempt to escape, only to be gobbled up and swallowed whole by the penguin. As a way of being sneaky, the penguins sit on the edge of an iceberg and wait for the prey to appear before plunging in.

The researchers were able to determine the hunting technique of penguins by using underwater “penguin cams” that turned on whenever a penguin entered the water.

Source: Reuters

Big Data apps are helping to track movement of flu

A string of new apps and websites are being developed that can help people avoid the flu. For example, Germ Tracker receives symptom data from social media platforms and tracks viruses as they spread. “Help I Have Flu,” developed by pharmaceutical startup Help Remedies, scans your friend’s social networking profiles for words related to flu, like “cough” or “sneeze.” The user will be alerted if someone in the network is sick. Google Flu Trends is another device that can track the flu by using data from flu-related searches.

Source: Discovery News

Vomiting robot is being used for virus research

Larry, a robot that can projectile vomit, was created by Catherine Makison-Booth, a microbiologist at the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Laboratory in the Occupations Hygiene Unit. The robot’s esophagus is attached to a cylinder filled with water and fluorescent liquid. The liquid, which is propelled by a special pump, shoots out of Larry’s mouth, and can go as far as 10 feet.

Scientists hope to see how norovirus spreads from humans to humans, based on the trajectory of vomit and viral particles. The norovirus affected over 880,000 people in the U.K. alone since last summer.

Source: Discovery News

NIH to retire over 300 chimpanzees to sanctuaries

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recently announced a possible move for some of its animals after a national panel of scientists recently concluded that over 300 chimpanzees being used for testing by the NIH should be retired. Some chimps are already being sent to Chimp Haven, a 200-acre sanctuary in northwestern Louisiana.

The NIH plans to keep around 50 chimps in case they are needed for further testing, but would have to improve the chimps’ living conditions. The move was announced due to growing technological advances and ethical concerns over the use of chimps for testing.

Source: Associated Press

Stem cell therapy to repair damaged knee cartilage

Rush University Medical Center is conducting the nation’s first clinical study of Cartistem, a stem cell drug, to repair knee cartilage damage by aging, trauma, or degenerative disease. The stem cells are mixed with hyaluronan, a natural polymer that plays a major role in wound healing and is a building block of joint cartilage. A two-year study will determine the effectivenss of the treatment.

Cartistem would be administered to the affected area through arthroscopic surgery, a relatively common procedure. Dr. Brian Cole, the principle investigator of the study, said, “With a burgeoning aging, yet active population, our patients are looking for effective nonjoint replacement solutions to treat their damaged knee cartilage.”

Source: Science Daily