August 17, 2018

Week In STEM-30th Jan

Gene editing to repair a mutation that causes blindness

Scientists in the US have used gene editing to repair a genetic mutation in cells that causes retinitis pigmentosa, one of the leading causes of blindness in young people around the world.

Researchers employed the CRISPR technique to repair the affected cells, with the procedure representing the first time that scientists have replaced a defective gene associated with a sensory disease in stem cells that were derived from a patient’s own tissue.

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El Niño leaves hunger in its wake

An estimated 10.2 million people are now food insecure in Ethiopia, as a result of an exceptional drought exacerbated by the El Niño event that began last year. The situation not only in the country but also across the whole of East Africa is predicted to worsen in coming months.

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Paracetamol use in pregnancy can cut female fertility

A study led by the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh and published in the journal Scientific Reports, has found using painkillers in pregnancy may reduce fertility in subsequent generations.

Tests in rats found that when a mother was given painkillers during pregnancy, her female offspring had fewer eggs, smaller ovaries and smaller litters of babies than those not exposed to the drugs.

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Eating stink bugs could boost health in Africa

A new study has identified essential nutrients in an edible insect known as stink bug and suggests it as an alternative food source to help meet the dietary demands of an increasing human population.   The study, published in the PloS ONE journal on 5 January, resulted from funding from the German Academic Exchange Service to aid postdoctoral fellowships in African centres of excellence.

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Overactive brain pruning in teens could cause schizophrenia

Building on a recent landmark study that pointed to 108 regions of our DNA in which certain variants raise the risk of schizophrenia. The most strongly implicated area is a large region of the genome that encodes proteins involved in the immune system – on the face of it, a puzzling find for a brain disorder.

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Pacific air pollution traced to Africa and Asia

Burning down forests in Africa and South-East Asia causes ozone pollution in the air as far as the western Pacific Ocean, researchers say, calling for revision of global climate models to reflect their findings.

In a paper published in Nature Communications last week (13 January), the scientists say their data contradicts earlier theories on the origins of ozone-rich air parcels above the tropical western Pacific, which were thought to descend naturally from a higher atmospheric layer.

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Nano coating lets you mould and slice liquid

It’s a puddle you can poke. A new material that appears to be an ordinary liquid, but can be shaped, moulded and sliced like Play-Doh or plasticine, could be used to make novel lenses or mini-containers for chemical reactions.

The material, developed by Xiaoguang Li of Tongji University in Shanghai, China, and his colleagues, relies on an extension of a technique for stabilising droplets as liquid marbles. These are water droplets coated in a hydrophobicpowder, which holds the liquid in place.

Watch the video


Device harvests untapped solar power

Researchers in Abu Dhabi have created a low-cost device that can make solar cells panels more efficient by splitting sunlight into its constituent colours.

The plastic device both concentrates and separates sunlight into its key spectral components: all the visible colours of the rainbow and invisible infrared. This allows for the layering of solar cells so each coloured ray is directed onto a solar panel designed to convert this colour at maximum efficiency, the researchers say.

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Our body adapts to intense exercise to burn fewer calories

People who are the most physically active seem to become more efficient at using energy, and so burn fewer calories when not exercising than the rest of us.

“This isn’t an argument for not exercising,” says David Stensel, who studies exercise metabolism at Loughborough University in the UK; exercise is still good for you in a host of other ways. “But it helps us understand why not everyone gets the weight loss they expect with exercise.”

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Europe’s song birds perfect their tunes when wintering in Africa

For many of Europe’s song birds, the winter migration south isn’t just about finding food – it’s band camp.

Birds that migrate long distances to escape cold European winters often spend time singing in their tropical wintering grounds in Africa.

This is puzzling because singing is energetically demanding, can attract predators and takes up time that could otherwise be used to look for food. We would not expect birds to sing outside the breeding season, when they use their tunes to attract mates. So why do they do it?

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