SciTech Briefs

Nerve implants help paralyzed patients pedal

Michael McClellan, who became paralyzed from the hip down after a biking accident damaged his T11 vertebrae in 2009, is now undergoing a two-hour daily cycling regimen to prepare for the world’s first Cybathlon this October, an Olympics-style competition for people with bionic equipment.

In 2011, McClellan underwent surgery to implant functional electronic stimulation technology. There are 16 silicon electrodes implanted near his nerve endings, and when the central stimulator sewn into his abdomen turns the electrodes on, they supply a current of electricity to his muscles.

Ron Triolo, executive director of the Advanced Platform Technology Center at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Cleveland, said, “It’s about triggering the right muscles in the right sequence to generate a pedaling motion in the paralyzed rider. It’s very simple for the user, but very complicated in a way that’s hidden in the technology.”

Source: The Sacramento Bee

Universal flu vaccine designed by scientists

An international team of scientists has developed a vaccine that can combat up to 88 percent of known flu strains worldwide. The team spanned across the universities of Lancaster, Aston, and Complutense in Madrid.

The scientists have also developed a vaccine specific to the United States that combats 95 percent of known strains specific to the country. The vaccines contain epitopes, short flu virus fragments that our immune system already recognizes, that reach full population coverage.

“Based on our knowledge of the flu virus and the human immune system, we can use computers to design the components of a vaccine that gives much broader and longer-lasting protection,” said Dr. Derek Gatherer of Lancaster University, one of the principle researchers for the project. The research was published in the journal Bioinformatics.

Source: Science Daily

Rosetta spacecraft lands on comet, ending mission

The comet orbiter Rosetta has landed on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ending its 26-month mission. Before it shuts down, Rosetta is equipped with a camera that will gather data and take incredibly detailed pictures of the comet.

Rosetta arrived at 67P on August 6, 2014 after spending nearly 10 years in space. Three months later, a lander Philae dropped to the comet’s surface after detaching from Rosetta. The rough landing caused Philae to rest in the shadow of a cliff, and with insufficient light to charge its battery it went to sleep.

Rosetta has made great contributions to the scientific community regarding comets, such as the discovery that comets have a much more dynamic surface than many other surfaces in the solar system and that the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen in 67P’s water is three times that on Earth.

Source: Science News

Bumblebees react positively to water laced with sugar

Although we automatically assume bees are happy when they buzz around flowers, there is now research to back it up. In a new study, scientists shook bees up vigorously for 60 seconds and monitored their actions. The bees that were more annoyed made poorer decisions when foraging for food.

The study was lead by Clint Perry, a neuroethologist at Queen Mary University of London. In addition, the research team trained 35 bees to navigate a course with tunnels; if the tunnel was marked with a blue flower, there was sugar water at the end. If the tunnel was marked with a green flower, there was no reward.

When the tunnel became marked with a flower containing both blue and green hues, the bees that were incentivized with sugar water before were quicker to enter the tunnel. Since both groups of bees flew the same distance and speed, it was attributed to a more optimistic, positive attitude.

The study was published in the journal Science.

Source: Science News

Mend major injuries with 3D printed bones

Recently, researchers from Northwestern University have created “hyperelastic bone” that can be 3D printed and work just as well as real bone. The bone is a scaffold made with hydroxyapatite – a naturally occurring mineral in bone, polycaprolactone – a biocompatible polymer, and a solvent.

This mixture creates the ink that is dispensed by the printer. The idea is that a patient who had a bad break would be x-rayed and a bone scaffold could be printed in the same day. Since the ink contains compounds commonly found in labs, it would be cheap to print and scaffolds could be produced quickly.

“We’re printing flexible scaffolds that will encourage bone to grow through and around them,” said Ramille Shah, a material science engineer and co-author on the study. So far, the researchers have used this hyperelastic bone to fuse two vertebrae in rats and to repair a macaque monkey’s damaged skull.

Source: ScienceMag

Tree frog species has entered extinction

The world’s last Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog, Toughie, recently passed away at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. He was collected in 2005 when he was an adult, so he was at least 12 years old.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden and Zoo Atlanta collected Toughie in a mission to rescue tree frogs when the deadly chytrid fungus closed in on central Panama. This death sends the species Ecnomiohyla rabborum into extinction.

“A lot of attention had been paid to him in captivity, so he even has his own Wikipedia page,” said Mark Mandica, head of the Amphibian Foundation.

“But there are plenty of other species out there that are disappearing, sometimes before we even knew that they were there,” Mandica said.

Source: National Geographic