Science Saturday: Space Sugar + Growing Organs + Antarctic Methane + Glove Tricorder + More

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.

Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.


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Ha ha. My new heart will be on order soon.

If Methane was under the ice sheet in the first place it would disprove global warming altogether! The only way that much methan could get trapped under there would be if the atmosphere had a lot of it at one time. Since we’re still here, we have to assume there is no global warming because Humans would have been cooked a long time ago if it were true. No this goes to prove the theory of cycles of global warming and cooling.

I used to say as a putdown ‘Grow a brain!’. People might have an apt and legitimate comeback to that some day soon.

But I don’t want a new brain (though I may NEED one). I want a Tricorder Glove!! Of course with that and a VISOR the next step might be full assimilation! ;-)

Thanks Kayla! Love me some Saturday Science!

@2 You misunderstand. *After* the Great Antarctic Ice Sheet formed…. all plant life remains (mostly carbon/organic compounds) were trapped. Microbes that still live under the sheet have been consuming the plant remains for 4 million years, “eating” it. That digestion process takes complex organics and breaks it down… the by-product (the “microbe poop” if you will) is the gas, methane, CH4, from CxHxOx –> x O2 + x CH4
It’s new methane, not old methane.
Of course, methane can get oxidized through burning, and you get out carbon dioxide and water. CH4 + 2 O2 -> CO2 + 2 H2O

Of course there are cycles of global warming and cooling, but over millions of years! However, looking at graphical trends from ice cores we should be cooling right now but we are not. The danger is that the current global warming caused by us now could release this methane causing an avalanche of changes that we would not be able to reverse. That’s one of the reasons that there is a concern to halt the warming before this happens.
Also, that methane didn’t just suddenly get trapped in there, that took a long time too.
You don’t have to believe me, but the data and the massive amount of supporting evidence speaks for itself.

Wonderful and inspiring science information. Thank you for this start to the Labor Day weekend.


Sorry Beamer but your logic fails you here repeatedly.
The report says the methane was produced by microbial action below the surface and is hence trapped. And there’s no reason to assume any of this could have affected human life directly. Much, if not most or ALL of it could have occurred before humans. In any case we certainly do not “HAVE TO ASSUME there is no global warming” just because of the existence of this methane.

I read about the sugar molecules in space earlier this week…
Isn’t that sweet? ;-D

I also found the Antarctic methane story interesting; it immediately draws (in my mind, anyway) parallels to the subsurface methane detected on Mars (which has huge deposits of subsurface water ice). The Curiosity rover is designed to distinguish if any Martian methane it detects is organic produced or not. I look forward to it’s future results…

Thanks again, Kayla. I enjoy the real-world science articles very much!

#2: You’re misunderstanding the science of it. The methane was formed AFTER the ice sheet, as a byproduct of the microbes. This, in no way, disproves global warming.

So we’re all made of sugar. No wonder my a$$ is so fat!

Massive methane release? Yeah, I’ll add it to the ways that we’re gonna get wiped out. It’s a pretty long list already.

I wanna live on Ceres. Or inside it, more likely. One day that 600 mile chunk of rock is gonna go condo. You mark my words.

Anyway, thanks Kayla!

The arctic tundra of Canada has contained millions of tons of methane. With global warming, the tundra is rapidly thawing and tons of methane is being released into the air each day. Methane increases the temperature of the earth, speeding up global warming. The arctic has warmed up five times faster than the rest of the earth. The arctic ice sheet is at its lowest level in human history, and is still going to shrink even more in the next couple of months, when it is supposed to expand.

Rapid warming is also being noticed in Antarctica. Glaciers have retreated 50% in the last thirty years, and the process there is accelerating at a rapid pace.

With more and more amounts of fossil fuels being pumped into the atmosphere, and no Earth-friendly technology being developed, our planet will become ice free in as little as two decades.

That will spell doom for coastlines everywhere, with cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Vancouver, etc at threat of being submerged under 100 meters+ of water. Not to mention the increase in the number of cataclysmic disasters, not just storms and droughts, but earthquakes and tsunamis. And a lack of ice would also spell doom for the ocean’s inhabitants. A lot of the world’s plankton and fish depend on the cold currents produced by icemelt, and without that, the oceans will warm up, killing off the plankton, and starting a chain reaction of oceanic extinction, with more disastrous results for humans.

The scary thing is, none of our politicians are getting it. They’ve been paid off by the big oil companies, who see the arctic as a free for all.

And even if we were to start cleaning up our act today, it may be too late. There is already a 100 years’ worth of extra CO2 in the atmosphere, meaning that even if we stopped everything, the earth would still warm up for the next century.

Something to think about.

I wish someone would tell #2 he misunderstands.


You’re way off the mark, pal, and incredibly ignorant.

# 11.


All too true, I’m afraid… I sincerely wish it weren’t, but it is.
This is not a political point, or some ‘left wing agenda’, but an ecological issue. Or more to the point, it’s a global crisis of unprecedented magnitude. We have to pull our collective heads out of our a$$es, drop the partisan rhetoric, and get real about this.

# 10 CmdrR


I’m still waiting for Hubble or Spitzer to find a planet made entirely of doughnuts…



I agree. Voters have to make it an issue during each election. It can’t be just about the economy, or national security, or moral values, etc.

I’m afraid here in Canada, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are deliberately going out of their way to discredit, ignore, and generally reduce the role of science (in particular, global warming) in policy-making in regards to how the oil industry affects the environment. They want to allow Enbridge (an oilsands company notorious for at least 175 oil spills ALONE in Canada and the U.S!) to build a pipeline to the west coast through the Great Bear Rainforest, an ecologically isolated, sensitive, and important area of B.C.


I think you touched on (partly) why so many want global warming to be untrue: bad marketing. Average folks—that is the non-patchouli oil crowd—automatically associate “climate change” with radical and partisan causes. You know the types:

Of course, there is plenty of ignorance and denial on the other side of the issue, but if you want to get through to people, you can’t come off like a very strange nagging wife covered in Woodstock mud.


True (about not wanting to sound nagging and screeching), but at the same time, I think the luxury of continuing debate and affording doubt is pretty much over.

I suppose one could try to couch the message in a funny cartoon or a clever catchphrase, but I don’t think there’s an easy way to deliver the bad news without sounding alarmist. Then again, I don’t have an advertising background.

This is a job for Don Draper…. ;-D


Agreed! That guy could sell ice to an Eskimo.
If there still is ice up there….


It’s funny how they can see sugar molecules floating in space 400 million lightyears away but can’t seem to find a earthlike planet that is closer to us and see the inhabitants looking back at us.

oops. I meant 400 lightyears. my bad.

Stephen Colbert does a tribute to Neil Armstrong and uses Geraldo and Star Trek. Yes, Colbert is clearly a Trekker because he gives the Vulcan salute. Look for the Delta Shield. Watch Colbert use sarcasm to salute Armstrong,

# 19


LOL!! ;-D

He could sell diet pills to refugees….

# 20


Because they can detect the chemical signature of sugar molecules in a (very carefully obtained) stellar spectrograph; they’re not actually ‘seeing’ anything (let alone something as small as a sugar molecule). They infer from it’s unique chemical signature. Much in the same way we discover exosolar planets; not by direct observation, but through their gravitational influences on their parent star, or a slight dip in brightness across the star’s surface.

It’s not as though they can count individual sugar molecules…. yet.


A couple things about methane gas trapped under Antarctica. I thought it might be beneficial since it could be an energy source. But then the article points out to climate change. Not so good.

The second thing that made me curious. What was the climate of Antarctica millions of years ago. Tropical? What were the animals that lived there?


Depends on how far you go back, but there have been dinosaur fossils found in Antarctica—from before the continents split.

I’ve also heard of a team of Swedes—I mean, Norwegians in the early ’80s that discovered a more recent specimen.

#2 and all those readers that hesitate to believe in climate change – This is no longer a question of global warming or not. It is now called climate change. How appropriate your assigned number? Leave science to the scientists! What you believe is irrelevant.

What others have not said is that Antarctica was once a large lush rain forest. When all of that vegetation and organic matter (#2 included literally), microbial action helped with its decomposition back into broken down organic matter. A by-product of this process is methane. Take a drive through Staten Island on a hot summer’s day one evening after some high heat and humidity. Don’t forget to bring your nose plug for the stench of methane coming from the decomposing garbage.

The fact that anyone can even attempt to refute climate change as a result of mans impact on the environment is insane. Every reputable scientist that has a legitimate accreditation does not refute this. The situation is becoming so dire that even if everyone took it seriously and did what was necessary, it is likely the problem is already passed the point of no return. That is the only argument scientists are having as of this date.

The Glove Tricorder reminds me of the MD’s diagnostic glove on Earth 2 (mid 90s sci-fi from NBC)!! HAHA

Earth 2… that was one cool show in so many ways.
A revisiting of it 20 years later could make for a very interesting series.

Since when did science and the scientific method become synonymous with opinion and belief? Good grief, we’re screwed.

Thanks Kayla, great article! Wish ou talked to us more in comments though lol…. Keep up the good work

Scientist can study molecules 400 light years away?

We are only just getting decent images of Mars in our own solar system but we can study molecules 400 light years away.

I would like to hear more on how that works.

some interesting news i do wonder what space sugar would taste like lol

# 31 chris~

Read my post (# 23). ;-)

Lots of interesting tidbits – thanks Kayla! Have you staged a coup at trekmovie? Is AP tied up and gagged in your basement? : )

When I talk to right wing conservatives about global warming, they accuse those who think it’s real as worshiping a religion. Then, of course, Al Gore’s name will come from their lips. That’s their boogeyman. Forget the fact he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Okay, here’s why non-believers should change their minds. The conservative Koch Brothers funded a study on global warming. They’re not environmentalists. They’re part of the oil industry. They hired Richard Muller, a scientist and skeptic of global warming The result of the study? GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL ACCORDING TO GLOBAL WARMING SKEPTIC AND SCIENTIST. Link.

I’ve also posted Jon Stewart’s commentary on the new study. Look, we’re roasting. Might as well find something to laugh about.

1. Conservative study confirms the existence of global warming.

2. Jon Stewart on the study.

Growing organs is great hope for people waiting for doners, especially older people who are put on the low priority list.

The methane waiting to be unleashed by our rising global temperatures is a monumental concern.

What would it take to convince the skeptics? Even if we bring ourselves to the brink of extinction, many will say it’s fulfillment of God’s plan: We have no responsibility, no free will. God plans to destroy mankind. Maybe God doesn’t even have free will. His words are written in stone; he has never, ever been known to change his mind; and he hasn’t attempted to speak to the masses since Moses, or Christ, or Mohammed (the ‘newbiest’ at 580 AD).

So I’m watching a National Geographic documentary about climate change called Six Degrees Could Change the World. And I forgot about the heat wave that hit France in 2003. Remember the deaths due to the heat? Now we’ve just endured the hottest July ever. Link. And the country has areas with drought. So again if you’re a skeptic, look at what has happened in the last ten years. And read about the study by a global warming skeptic who now is a believer.

Psssst….announcement any day now, but I’m going to let the cat out of the bag. We’ve got a title.




# 39

Isn’t that “The Dark Khan Rises?” Nice try, though… ;-D

England had had the wettest Summer on record, ever.
This may also be a symptom of global warming/climate change.

I wonder how much credence the events depicted in “The day after tomorrow” actually hold. Specifically, that a major melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice could cause a large enough change in the salinity of the Worlds oceans that could disrupt the Gulf Stream and instead of us suffering from increased temperatures, actually plunge us into another ice age.

As far as I recall, the science behind the premise is sound, it is just the speed of the change which is a bit ludicrous.

However, some scientists think that a large enough melt could trigger such a change in mere months.

Something to think about…

“has had” not “had had” Grrrrr.

@44: Thanks for bringing us the news. I wish Dorn well, but not on this project. If he gets this show on the screen, it’ll make it less likely we’ll see another ST show from anyone else for a long while, unless Dorn’s venture is a great success–what are the chances?

44. and 45.

That’s old news. Already reported on this site awhile back.

#44 – 46.

Also, no one cares enough to tune in.

@46: It’s also old news that there will be a sequel to 2009, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be updates or that no one will discuss it any longer. I saw the earlier TM article on Dorn’s ideas; fairly certain I commented there, too, but thanks for taking the time to let us know you’re better informed than we are:) It’s a long no new news weekend in Trekland, so little better to do than to comment about virtually nothing at all.


Details have leaked online!!!!

No Botany Bay nescessary for Khan?

Oops, that was me. Sorry… how embarrassing (that is new methane).