SciTech Briefs

Magnetic bacteria may be next cancer breakthrough

In the journey to develop a nano-carrier to deliver tumor-fighting drugs, researchers of the Polytechnique Montréal NanoRobotics Laboratory may have discovered a natural means to effectively transport the drugs — magnetic bacteria called magnetococcus marinus. These bacteria have the potential to overcome the challenges that other artificial bio-chemical nanocarriers face, including the ability to naturally navigate to areas with low oxygen levels, which is the defining characteristic of where metastasis, or division of cancer cells, occurs. This will allow for more drugs to reach the tumor and hopefully slow down the rate of metastasis. The research team has conducted preliminary tests on mice and rats, and the results have been promising. The findings have been published in the August 2016 issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

Source: Science Daily

Gaia measures speed of universe expansion

The value of the expansion rate of the universe, as reported by the Gaia space telescope, is much faster than what scientists expected. This is not the first time that telescopes have proposed this, but Gaia’s findings are significant because its measurements are regarded to be the most precise. If Gaia’s observations are correct, the timescale scientists currently have of the universe will be reduced by a few hundred million years. Furthermore, Gaia has the potential to be revolutionary in the quest to determine the Hubble Constant which defines the relationship between the distance of galaxies and how the wavelength of the light stretches. The Hubble Constant is the key to finding the rate at which the cosmos is expanding, and Gaia, once it completes its orbit in 2019, should have the ability to measure the Hubble Constant to a precision of 1 percent.

Source: BBC News

Plastic developed that can move like a caterpillar

A research lab at the University of Warsaw created a new “robot caterpillar” out of plastic that is half an inch long, a few millimeters wide, and as thin as human hair. When exposed to green laser light, it begins to move across a surface by undulating like a caterpillar and can carry up to ten times its weight. The type of plastic used contains liquid crystalline elastomers, and the lasers cause it to move by altering the shape of the molecules in the plastic. The purpose of this creation was to explore a field of robots without using wires and batteries and other seemingly essential hardware. Currently, there are no practical applications of this mini robot caterpillar, but the aim is to begin a new thought process in robotics that strays away from the traditional wire-battery-motor scheme. This technology is promising.

Source: The New York Times

Tropical dry forests are important, unprotected habitats

Although tropical dry forests are home to many species not found elsewhere in the world, few are protected from deforestation. For example, while almost ten percent of the Amazon rainforest is fully protected, only one percent of the Caatinga dry forest in northern Brazil is under protection. The range of tropical dry forests has diminished to ten percent of what it used to be, due to their ideal conditions for growing cash crops. A team from the Latin America and Caribbean Seasonally Dry Tropical Forest Floristic Network claims that these trees’ abilities to adapt to heat and drought should make tropical dry forest conservation a global priority in light of global warming. The next step for this team is raising awareness in Latin American communities in the hopes of catching the attention of the policymakers.

Source: BBC News

Extinct reptile species resembles dinosaurs

Paleontologists have identified a new species of reptile, Triopticus primus, from before the age of dinosaurs — an estimated 230 million years ago. After CT scanning, paleontologists found that the Triopticus primus’ skull bears a resemblance both externally and internally to that of the dome-headed Pachycephalosaurus dinosaurs, like the Stegoceras. This discovery of distantly related animals — and in this case, 150 million years’ worth of distance — resembling each other is called convergence. Originally, paleontologists believed that many of the dinosaurs’ features were unique, but they are beginning to uncover many fossils of reptiles that resemble those supposedly “unique” body shapes. Researchers have stated that the discovery of the convergence of so many different reptiles in the same area is extremely rare, making this an even more interesting finding.

Source: Science Daily

Bourbon inspires scientists to use fire to clean oil spill

Three scientists from the University of Maryland were inspired by a video of burning bourbon to apply a fire whirl, or tornado of fire, to oil spills. During their research, the scientists found that fire whirls are efficient in burning fuel, but produce soot to give the fire a yellow color. However, during the experiments, the fire whirl quickly turned blue. In addition, the fire whirl was even more efficient and did not produce any soot. They do not know why the vortex turned blue at this point in their research and have not found any evidence that suggests other reports of blue fire whirls, but they will attempt to recreate the blue “firenado” at an even larger scale to hopefully combat future oil spills.

Source: The New York Times