Science News Update: March 9th

science news march 3rd

Science News For The Science Classroom

Artificial muscles made of fishing wire

While artificial muscles are hardly a new idea, they are often made out of incredibly expensive materials, such as carbon nanotubes, making them infeasible to develop commercially. New innovations, however, may have just removed that cost barrier, creating artificial muscles at merely $5 a kilogram- out of fishing wire.

These new artificial muscles are 100 times stronger than human sinew, and can develop 7.1 horsepower per kilogram- proportionally the same power as a jet engine.

In addition to their potential to be used for prosthetic limbs and military or industrial exoskeletons, the nature of these cheap, powerful muscles can allow for more expressive and realistic robotic faces and can even be used in clothing, creating pores that expand or contract depending on outside temperatures.

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Dogs process voices in the same way as humans

It may not surprise dog owners that dogs develop emotional connections to what they hear, but for scientists, the findings of a new study conducted in Hungary have allowed for a much better understanding of the minds of our canine companions.

In the experiment, 11 dogs, made up of border collies and golden retrievers, were trained to sit in an MRI while being subjected to several auditory signals- from a dog whining to a human laughing. Likewise, 22 humans were subjected to the same signals while the MRI measured corresponding blood flow in their brain.

In both species, the brain reacted in similar ways to differences in emotion- whining vs. playful parking or laughing vs. scolding. While some scientists claim that this is a result of dogs molding their brains to human domestication, most believe these findings to suggest that emotional context evolved in a shared ancestor to both dogs and humans, which probably lived around 100 million years ago.

If this is the case, than many more animals besides dogs could share the same emotional connection to speech.


New materials help wounds heal faster

Growth factors are the proteins that allow us to heal.  When we get a cut or a bruise, these proteins signal certain cells to help heal the wounds, and for nearly a decade, scientists have been trying to figure out how to manipulate these growth factors to help wounds heal faster and more efficiently.

Researchers in Switzerland have come one step closer in developing such a growth factor substance. By encouraging growth factor proteins to “stick” to wounds, the researchers managed to quickly heal the wounds of several lab mice with genetic traits that made wounds difficult to heal.

While growth factor substances are still new to the market, the work of these scientists could one day allow for growth factors to be cheaper, more efficient, and require less material to work.

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Using Silk to Heal Bones

Traditionally, doctors treat broken bones by inserting metal “fixation devices” that help the bone heal back to its original form. Yet these fixation devices often come with disadvantages, such as causing unnecessary stress on the broken bone or even causing inflammation and infection. Metal fixation devices also have to be sometimes removed via a second surgery, causing stress and placing financial burden on the patient.

In yet another advance in medicine this week, scientists have developed a new kind of fixation device, made not of metal but of the silk of the B. mori silkworm. In addition to being more efficient at healing bones, these silk fixation devices carry less risk of infection and, most importantly, biodegrade within the human body, ridding the need for follow-up surgery.


World’s Largest Virus

It used to be thought that all viruses were incredibly small- so small that they could never be seen under a typical microscope. Yet, in recent years, so-called “Megaviruses” and “Pandoraviruses” that are up to 100 times larger than typical viruses have been discovered. Luckily, however, these huge viruses are only a threat to single-celled organisms, as they lack the complicated entry mechanisms that allow smaller viruses to enter the more complex cells that humans and other animals possess.

What’s interesting, then, about the latest megavirus discovered, is not just it’s huge size- the largest yet recorded, at over 100 times the size of a normal virus- but how ancient it is. Discovered in permafrost in Siberia, Pithovirus sibericum is nearly 30,000 years old, having “survived” 100 meters beneath the ice for thousands of years before re-emerging to feed on its single-celled prey.

As viruses are not truly alive, they also cannot really die- as evident by sibericum‘s incredible age. It’s probably that viruses, therefore, could live for millions of years until their DNA breaks down.


Placing a Severe Winter in Perspective

For Eastern America, it may seem as if this January set records for cold temperatures, however, it was the 4th warmest January for earth as a whole! It was cold in certain areas, but the US does not have a ton of say in the global temperatures.

The rest of the earth was actually warmer than normal despite Eastern America’s nasty January.



Olympic Records

Since 1894, there have been 32 Olympic games. With the best athletes in the world competing each year, one would think that records would start to “plateau”, with few if any records being made as the Olympics progressed. Yet each year, new records are being made- is this because humans are naturally becoming better at sports, or is something else at play?

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