“Mini Antlers” Grown On Mice Heads After Scientists Implant Deer Cells

Scientists have grown “mini-antlers” on mice by inserting deer genes into the mouse genome, according to a new paper. The results suggest that mammals that have lost the ability to regenerate organs may still contain some regenerative genes, and that it may be possible to harness the rapid growth of antlers in other applications. 

Growing at 2.75 centimeters (around 1 inch) per day, antlers are one of the fastest regenerating tissues in the animal kingdom and offer a perfect look at how mammals can regenerate cells on a regular basis. Antlers are especially interesting because mammals in general have lost the ability to regenerate organs and most other tissues, so a large appendage that regularly regrows offers unparalleled insight into how regenerative medicine for bones could work.  

In the pursuit of regenerative medicines, Chinese researcher Toa Qin and colleagues took a deep dive into the mechanics behind the antlers of Sika deer, which regrow every year before they are shed. In doing so, they created a regenerative “atlas” of Sika deer antlers, isolating multiple single cells and genes that are critical in the development of the antler tissue. 

Ten days before the antlers were shed, the researchers identified one type of stem cell that was highly active in the regeneration, and these remained with the antlers a short time after shedding. However, by day five post-shedding, a new subtype of stem cells had emerged. 

After identifying multiple stages of growth, the team took the stem cells with the most regrowth potential (which proved to be from shed antlers around five days old) and cultured them in a Petri dish before implanting them into the head of mice. 

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Researchers launched a solar geoengineering test flight in the UK last fall

Last September, researchers in the UK launched a high-altitude weather balloon that released a few hundred grams of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, a potential scientific first in the solar geoengineering field, MIT Technology Review has learned.

Solar geoengineering is the theory that humans can ease global warming by deliberately reflecting more sunlight into space. One possible means is spraying sulfur dioxide in the stratosphere, in an effort to mimic a cooling effect that occurs in the aftermath of major volcanic eruptions. It is highly controversial given concerns about potential unintended consequences, among other issues.

The UK effort was not a test of or experiment in geoengineering itself. Rather, the stated goal was to evaluate a low-cost, controllable, recoverable balloon system, according to details obtained by MIT Technology Review. Such a system could be used for small-scale geoengineering research efforts, or perhaps for an eventual distributed geoengineering deployment involving numerous balloons.

The “Stratospheric Aerosol Transport and Nucleation,” or SATAN, balloon systems were made from stock and hobbyist components, with hardware costs that ran less than $1,000. 

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Scientists create mice with two fathers after making eggs from male cells

Scientists have created mice with two biological fathers by generating eggs from male cells, a development that opens up radical new possibilities for reproduction.

The advance could ultimately pave the way for treatments for severe forms of infertility, as well as raising the tantalising prospect of same-sex couples being able to have a biological child together in the future.

“This is the first case of making robust mammal oocytes from male cells,” said Katsuhiko Hayashi, who led the work at Kyushu University in Japan and is internationally renowned as a pioneer in the field of lab-grown eggs and sperm.

Hayashi, who presented the development at the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing at the Francis Crick Institute in London on Wednesday, predicts that it will be technically possible to create a viable human egg from a male skin cell within a decade. Others suggested this timeline was optimistic given that scientists are yet to create viable lab-grown human eggs from female cells.

Previously scientists have created mice that technically had two biological fathers through a chain of elaborate steps, including genetic engineering. However, this is the first time viable eggs have been cultivated from male cells and marks a significant advance. Hayashi’s team is now attempting to replicate this achievement with human cells, although there would be significant hurdles for the use of lab-grown eggs for clinical purposes, including establishing their safety.

“Purely in terms of technology, it will be possible [in humans] even in 10 years,” he said, adding that he personally would be in favour of the technology being used clinically to allow two men to have a baby if it were shown to be safe.

“I don’t know whether they’ll be available for reproduction,” he said. “That is not a question just for the scientific programme, but also for [society].”

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Scientists have revived a ‘zombie’ virus that spent 48,500 years frozen in permafrost

Warmer temperatures in the Arctic are thawing the region’s permafrost — a frozen layer of soil beneath the ground — and potentially stirring viruses that, after lying dormant for tens of thousands of years, could endanger animal and human health.

While a pandemic unleashed by a disease from the distant past sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, scientists warn that the risks, though low, are underappreciated. Chemical and radioactive waste that dates back to the Cold War, which has the potential to harm wildlife and disrupt ecosystems, may also be released during thaws.

“There’s a lot going on with the permafrost that is of concern, and (it) really shows why it’s super important that we keep as much of the permafrost frozen as possible,” said Kimberley Miner, a climate scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.

Permafrost covers a fifth of the Northern Hemisphere, having underpinned the Arctic tundra and boreal forests of Alaska, Canada and Russia for millennia. It serves as a kind of time capsule, preserving — in addition to ancient viruses — the mummified remains of a number of extinct animals that scientist have been able to unearth and study in recent years, including two cave lion cubs and a woolly rhino.

The reason permafrost is a good storage medium isn’t just because it’s cold; it’s an oxygen-free environment that light doesn’t penetrate. But current day Arctic temperatures are warming up to four times faster than the rest of the planet, weakening the top layer of permafrost in the region.

To better understand the risks posed by frozen viruses, Jean-Michel Claverie, an Emeritus professor of medicine and genomics at the Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine in Marseille, France, has tested earth samples taken from Siberian permafrost to see whether any viral particles contained therein are still infectious. He’s in search of what he describes as “zombie viruses” — and he has found some.

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Discovery of the ‘bubble phase of composite fermions’ confirms existence of a new family of quantum matter

 Like finding a hidden world, physicists dialing up the magnetic field on a semiconducting material have discovered the first in a new family of matter that flowers from the bizarre realm of the quantum scale. In what researchers dubbed the bubble phase of composite fermions, pairs of quasiparticles – particle-like entities arising from the interaction of particles – align in a crystalline pattern, allowing electricity to flow along the edge of the material.  

The discovery represents a previously unobserved arrangement of composite fermions, which are entities that behave like particles and are formed from the interaction between electrons and magnetism. The bubble phase of composite fermions falls into a category of matter properly called topological insulators, which denotes that electricity flows only along the outer surface or edge of the material, while the cross-section does not conduct electricity. While dozens of topological insulators have been discovered by condensed matter physicists, the combined paired and periodic structure of the bubble phase represents an entirely new family or sub-category of “highly correlated topological phases” that had been theorized but not previously observed. 

“As the first member of a new family of highly correlated topological phases, this new phase expands our understanding and offers a glimpse of the role of electronic interactions in generating higher order correlations in electronic systems,” said Gábor Csáthy, a Purdue University professor and head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.  

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Futuristic “biocomputers” Using Human Brain Cells Could Soon Be A Reality

Futuristic “biocomputers” using the power of human brain cells could soon become a reality — revolutionizing digital technology, a new study explains. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University say the half-human-half-machine devices have the potential to push past current technological limits by using brain organoids taken from tiny human skin samples.

The team of scientists has been experimenting with brain tissue the size of a pen dot, containing neurons and other functions with the ability to learn and memorize. Professor Thomas Hartung, who leads the work, says this “biological hardware” could soon assist with valuable research on how the human brain works and provide a way of alleviating energy consumption demands in supercomputers.

The study team also hopes organoid intelligence could additionally revolutionize drug testing research for neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegeneration. Though computers can do calculations with numbers and data far quicker than humans, the brain is much better at making complex logical decisions, such as identifying one animal from another.

The brain is still unmatched by modern computers,” Hartung says in a media release. “Frontier, the latest supercomputer in Kentucky, is a $600 million, 6,800-square-feet installation. Only in June of last year, it exceeded for the first time the computational capacity of a single human brain — but using a million times more energy.”

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Science needs to stop using terms like male, female, mother and father, researchers say

Alternatives to terms like “male” and “female” and “mother” and “father” should be sought in science because they assume that sex is binary and heterosexuality is the norm, a group of researchers from the US and Canada suggests.

Male and female should instead be referred to as “sperm-producing” and “egg-producing,” the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) Language Project said, according to the Times of London.

Meanwhile, father and mother should be labeled “parent,” “egg donor” and “sperm donor” in the scientific field.

The group has called on the scientific field to use words that are more “inclusive and precise,” according to a press release from the University of British Columbia, which has three researchers in the initiative.

“Much of Western science is rooted in colonialism, white supremacy and patriarchy, and these power structures continue to permeate our scientific culture,” some project members wrote in the Trends in Ecology and Evolution journal.

UBC assistant professor Dr. Kaitlyn Gaynor said the undertaking began from a Twitter conversation among a few people about terminology that is potentially harmful.

“We reached out to different networks in ecology and evolution that were focused on increasing inclusion and equity in the field to rally support for one very specific action —revising terminology that might be harmful to certain people, particularly those from groups historically and currently excluded from science,” she said, according to the press release.

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“Nothing” doesn’t exist. Instead, there is “quantum foam”

What is nothing? This is a question that has bothered philosophers as far back as the ancient Greeks, where they debated the nature of the void. They had long discussions trying to determine whether nothing is something.

While the philosophical facets of this question pose some interest, the question is also one that the scientific community has addressed. (Big Think’s Dr. Ethan Siegel has an article describing the four definitions of “nothing.”)

It’s nothing, really

What would happen if scientists took a container and removed all the air out of it, creating an ideal vacuum that was entirely devoid of matter? The removal of matter would mean that energy would remain. Much in the same way that the energy from the Sun can cross to the Earth through empty space, heat from outside the container would radiate into the container. Thus, the container wouldn’t be truly empty.

However, what if scientists also cooled the container to the lowest possible temperature (absolute zero), so it radiated no energy at all? Furthermore, suppose that scientists shielded the container so no outside energy or radiation could penetrate it. Then there would be absolutely nothing inside the container, right?

That’s where things become counterintuitive. It turns out that nothing isn’t nothing.

The nature of “nothing”

The laws of quantum mechanics are confusing, predicting that particles are also waves and that cats are simultaneously alive and dead. However, one of the most confusing of all quantum principles is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which is commonly explained as saying that you cannot simultaneously perfectly measure the location and movement of a subatomic particle. While that is a good representation of the principle, it also says that you cannot measure the energy of anything perfectly and that the shorter the time you measure, the worse your measurement is. Taken to the extreme, if you try to make a measurement in near-zero time, your measurement will be infinitely imprecise.

These quantum principles have mind-bending consequences for anyone trying to understand the nature of nothing. For example, if you try to measure the amount of energy at a location — even if that energy is supposed to be nothing — you still cannot measure zero precisely. Sometimes, when you make the measurement, the expected zero turns out to be non-zero. And this isn’t just a measurement problem; it’s a feature of reality. For short periods of time, zero is not always zero.

When you combine this bizarre fact (that zero expected energy can be non-zero, if you examine a short enough time period) with Einstein’s famous equation E = mc2, there is an even more bizarre consequence. Einstein’s equation says that energy is matter and vice versa. Combined with quantum theory, this means that in a location that is supposedly entirely empty and devoid of energy, space can briefly fluctuate to non-zero energy — and that temporary energy can make matter (and antimatter) particles.

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Scientists Looking to Scatter Moon Dust Around Earth to Combat ‘Climate Change’

A group of scientists has proposed creating a shield made of moon dust positioned between the Earth and the sun as a way to lower the planet’s temperature in a bid to combat “climate change,” a plan that could have devastating consequences.

In a Feb. 8 study published in the journal PLOS, three researchers from the University of Utah proposed their moon dust shield idea while calling climate change an “existential threat.” Large quantities of moon dust between the Earth and the sun can “reduce the amount of sunlight received on our planet,” they claimed while estimating that billions of kilograms of moon dust will be needed annually to maintain the shield. “Because dust grains between Earth and the Sun tend to drift out of alignment, they must be replenished,” the study said.

The “most promising” scenario for creating the shield involves mining lunar dust and ballistically blasting it from the moon on a trajectory toward the Earth-sun L1 Lagrange point, a gravitationally stable point located 900,000 miles from Earth.

The plan is estimated to potentially lower sunlight by 1.8 percent or around six days of sunlight per year, thereby lowering the Earth’s temperature.

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Scientists to engineer woolly mammoth’s return by 2027

The long-extinct woolly mammoth is slated for a return to the world stage by 2027, Popular Mechanics reported Monday of biotechnology startup Colossal’s ambitious project.

“It will walk like a woolly mammoth, look like one, sound like one, but most importantly, it will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem previously abandoned by the mammoth’s extinction,” the Texas-based, billion-dollar company said of its landmark de-extinction project.

“The woolly mammoth is a vital defender of the earth,” the site also says.

Colossal Laboratories & Biosciences began making headlines again after recent press releases highlighting their work on similar projects to “de-extinct” other ancient creatures like the dodo bird.

“In addition to bringing back ancient extinct species like the woolly mammoth, we will be able to leverage our technologies to help preserve critically endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and restore animals where humankind had a hand in their demise,” said CEO and Colossal co-founder Ben Lamm on the organization’s website.

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