Welcome back to a brain-tingling edition of Science Saturday. This week: why sugar in space bodes well for finding ET life, how to grow your own replacement organs, where 4bn tonnes of methane may be hiding underneath ice, and what new tools can combine the art and science of the medical practice. All this and more, plus our gadget of the week — 3D Ms. Pac Man!
Sugar Found in Space Means Good News for ET Life
Floating around a star some 400 lightyears away, scientists have made a sweet discovery. Simple sugar molecules, carbon-rich building blocks of life, were detected in the gas orbiting a star, implying that the necessary components for life can be present in a system even before its planets have begun to form. The carbohydrate molecules found in the Rho Ophiuchi star-forming region are the most simple form of sugar — glycoaldehyde — which is also found on Earth and may play a role in chemical reactions that form RNA. This is the first time such molecules have been found so close to a sun-like star.
Read more at National Geographic News.
Glycoaldehyde sugar molecules found in the Rho Ophiuchi region
Instead of Donating Organs, Grow Them From Scratch
Have we developed the medical science and technology to build working human organs from scratch? We are nearly there says Nina Tandon, senior fellow at Columbia University’s Lab for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, in her TEDx talk in Berlin. Tandon says that we are entering the third age of medicine. The first age, where we have only a basic understanding of the human body, lasted for most of human existence. The second age has had us transplanting organs. The third age, which we are now entering, replaces transplantation — a procedure that requires human donors and has problems with organ rejection — with organ engineering and synthesizing. For Tandon’s PhD thesis, she grew cardiac cells in the lab that could beat like tiny hearts. She says that very soon these cells could be used in human patients after a heart attack.
Read more at CNET.
Watch lab-grown heart cells beating
4 Billion Tonnes of Methane Could Be Locked Beneath Antarctic Ice Sheet
Antarctica wasn’t always the cold, lifeless continent it is today. Millions of year ago, the Antarctic was quite warm and home to plenty of life. New research shows that this life, now trapped under the ice, could be being eaten away by microbes that have turned it into a vast reservoir, some 4bn tonnes, of methane. “Some of the organic material produced by this life became trapped in sediments,” says Prof Slawek Tulaczyk, co-author of the study, “which then were cut off from the rest of the world when the ice sheet grew. Our modelling shows that over millions of years, microbes may have turned this old organic carbon into methane.” The disappearing ice sheet may release enough of this methane into the atmosphere to have unpredictable impacts on the Earth’s climate.
Read more at The Guardian.
A cut-away view of Antarctica’s massive ice sheet
The Glove Tricorder Combines the Art and Science of Medicine
The Glove Tricorder (yes, that is the actual product name) is a new product being developed by Med Sensation, a company that aims to combine new diagnostic technologies with the power of human touch. The glove has a multitude of sensors – temperature, force, sound, vibration — and can send the data wirelessly to a computer. The new device, currently in the prototype stages, could aid in standard diagnoses, help to train doctors, and even lead to DIY cancer screenings.
Gadget of the Week: 3D Pac-Man
Can’t wait to book a holosuite? Why not try your hand and three dimensional Ms. Pac Man? Last weekend at the BabyCastles Summit event held in New York’s Museum of Art and Design, game developer Keita Takahashi got to show of the newest way to play an arcade classic. Instead of a simple projection of an image onto a wall, the game’s internal mechanics have been hacked to give the player the sense of being inside the game itself. Check out the video for a quick demo.
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.
- A millimeter-scale wirelessly powered cardiac device
- NASA’s WISE survey uncovers millions of black holes
- Dawn spacecraft parts ways with Vesta, heads to Ceres