SciTech Briefs

Astronomers discover distant blue planet

A deep azure-blue planet has been discovered orbiting a star 63 light years away; this is the first time astronomers have been able to determine the color of a planet outside our solar system. The feat was accomplished using Hubble’s Space Telescope to measure how much light was reflected off the surface of the planet before, during, and after it passed the star that it orbits.

Other features of the planet include having a daytime temperature of 2,000˚F, wind gusts up to 4,500 mph, and raining liquid glass. It is also 2.9 million miles away from its planet star — 10 times closer than Mercury is to our sun. The planet is classified as a “hot Jupiter,” a planet similar in size to a gas giant but close to its parent star.

Source: CNN

Scientists produce edible meat from cow shoulder cells

The future of food has taken a new direction with the invention of lab-grown meat. Mark Post, a Dutch researcher from the University of Maastricht, has pioneered a way of growing meat using stem cells (cells that can differentiate into tissue-specific cells) from cow shoulder muscle. The cells were multiplied in a nutrient solution and put in petri dishes, where they grew into muscle cells and formed strips of muscle fiber, a process which was developed through a $325,000 project.

A five-ounce burger was made from 20,000 strips of fiber, breadcrumbs, salt, and some natural colorings. While the lab-grown burger received subpar ratings in its taste test, it has introduced the idea of cultured meat to the world.

Source: The New York Times

Live tissue and organs produced by 3-D printers

3-D printing has gained increasing popularity in the past few years, with 3-D printers for the home recently becoming feasible. However, the newest breakthrough in this form of manufacturing technology is the 3-D printing of live tissue. Researchers at Hangzhou Dianzi University in China have developed the Regenovo 3-D printer.

Regenovo prints living tissue — in particular, it has successfully printed small human ears. Several months ago, a team at Cornell University were also successful in the 3-D printing of ears. At Organovo in San Diego, researchers are working on 3-D printing of fresh human livers. The development of these kinds of technologies may revolutionize the world of biomedical engineering, facilitating surgeries such as organ transplants and making them more personalized.
Source: New Scientist

Robot uses slime to express different set of emotions

Ella Gale, a researcher at the University of the West of England in Bristol and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, has discovered a way of using slime mold to give emotions to robots’ faces. Slime mold, although unicellular, is able to find the quickest path to food and has even shown signs of having memory.

Gale has developed a way of expressing emotions on a human-like robot face by hooking up the robot face so that its expressions are controlled by electrical signals. These signals are produced when slime mold shies away from light or moves towards food. Because slime mold produces electrical signals as it moves across electrodes, Gale and her team were able to assign different emotions to different signals.

Source: New Scientist

Researchers look into evolution of the X chromosome

The X chromosome has typically been considered the “female” chromosome, and the Y the “male.” This would suggest that since the second X chromosome in females is disabled, its evolution was slowed down and its genes would be similar in most mammals.

However, recent studies show that it is not only the Y chromosome that contains the genes responsible for sex determination, male development, and male fertility. Rather, the X chromosome has been found to contain genes that are only active in tissue that is destined to become sperm. After sequencing human and mice X chromosomes, geneticists discovered that there are a lot of unshared genes between the human X and mouse X, indicating that the X chromosome may have undergone evolution.

Source: Wired

Dolphins respond to unique sounds of their own name

It is a well-known fact that dolphins communicate with each other with clicks and whistles. However, a new observation has been made: Dolphins actually respond selectively to signature whistles, the same way a human being would respond to someone calling their name. This finding is one of the first examples of naming in mammals and suggests that there is a parallel between dolphin and human communication.

Biologists recorded signature whistles and played them, along with computer-synthesized distortions of them, through a hydrophone in Scotland’s eastern coast. The wild bottlenose dolphins ignored unfamiliar whistles while whistling back to their own signature whistles.

Source: Wired