Scientist

Scientists Grow Working Human Brain Circuits

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have successfully grown the first-ever working 3D brain circuits in a petri dish. Writing in the journal Nature, they say the network of living cells will allow us to study how the human brain develops.

Scientists have been culturing brain cells in the lab for some time now. But previous projects have produced only flat sheets of cells and tissue, which can’t really come close to recreating the three-dimensional conditions inside our heads. The Stanford researchers were especially interested in the way brain cells in a developing fetus can join up together to create networks.

“We’ve never been able to recapitulate these human-brain developmental events in a dish before,” senior author Sergiu Pasca, MD said in a statement.

Studying real-life pregnant women and their fetuses can also be ethically and technically tricky, which means there’s still a…

Scientists Develop Germ-Fighting Fake Mucus

image credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

We really don’t talk enough about the wonders of mucus. The goo produced by your nose, mouth, eyes, guts, and other parts is one of your greatest defenders, working hard to keep you safe in a germ-filled world. Now scientists have harnessed some of that power, creating a synthetic mucus that may help fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The research will be presented this week at the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting in Chicago.

Each of us produces about a gallon of mucus per day, enough to provide a thin coating over 2000 square feet of our innards. It’s a surprisingly versatile substance, for us and other animals. Last year, acoustic scientists reported that dolphins’ snot may be an essential ingredient in producing the clicks and whistles they use for echolocation. More recently, drug researchers found a…

This Caterpillar Eats Shopping Bags, Could Solve Plastic Waste Problem, Discover Scientists

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Scientists might have stumbled upon an unexpected way to solve pollution from plastics. A caterpillar bred to be fishing bait is apparently able to biodegrade polyethylene – a commonly used plastic found in shopping bags. With people using around a trillion plastic bags every year, and with up to 40% of them ending up in landfills, this could be a very significant discovery.

The wax worm caterpillar that eats plastic is the larvae of the common insect Galleria mellonella, aka greater wax moth.

The team working on the study, published in the journal Current Biology, included Federica Bertocchini from the Spanish Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, and biochemists Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe from the University of Cambridge in the UK.

The discovery was made by sheer chance when Bertocchini, who is an amateur beekeeper, removed the worms living in a beehive as parasites – a common problem across Europe. She collected them in a plastic bag and soon noticed holes throughout the bag. The worms ate their way out!

This prompted a timed experiment by her team, who placed about a hundred such worms in a plastic bag from a UK supermarket. They realized that the holes…

Collider data hint at unexpected new subatomic particles

LHCb experiment
WEIRD DECAYS Something funny may be going on in certain particle decays measured in the LHCb experiment in Geneva (above). A new measurement has now added to scientists’ suspicions.

A handful of measurements of decaying particles has seemed slightly off-kilter for years, intriguing physicists. Now a new decay measurement at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva has amplified that interest into tentative enthusiasm, with theoretical physicists proposing that weird new particles could explain the results. Scientists with the LHCb experiment reported the new result on April 18 in a seminar at the European particle physics lab CERN, which hosts the LHC.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” says theoretical physicist Benjamin Grinstein of the University of California, San Diego. The new measurement is “a further hint that there’s something new and unexpected happening in very fundamental interactions.”

Other physicists, however, are more cautious, betting that the series of hints will not lead to a new discovery. “One should always remain suspicious of an effect that does not show up in a clear way” in any individual measurement, Carlos Wagner of the University of Chicago wrote in an e-mail.

Taken in isolation, none of the measurements rise beyond the level that can be explained by a statistical fluctuation, meaning that the discrepancies could easily disappear with more data. But, says theoretical physicist David London of the University of Montreal, there are multiple independent hints, “and they all seem to be pointing at something.”

The measurements all involve a class of particle called a B meson, which can be produced when protons are smashed together in the LHC. When a B meson decays, it can produce a type of particle called a kaon that is accompanied either by…

Scientists Transform Spinach Leaves Into Working Human Heart Tissue

Scientists from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute have turned a spinach leaf into working human heart tissue, and this could revolutionize the treatment of damaged organs.

Tissue engineering (also called regenerative medicine) attempts to create functional human tissue from cells in a laboratory. Its goal is to replace tissues and organs that fail due to disease, genetic errors, or other reasons. Scientists have already created large-scale human tissue in a lab, but without a vascular network that carries blood, a big part of that tissue dies.

To fight that, the researchers took a spinach leaf and removed its plant cells, leaving a frame made of cellulose. “Cellulose is biocompatible [and] has been used in a wide variety of regenerative medicine applications, such as cartilage tissue engineering, bone tissue engineering, and wound healing,” the authors write in their paper.

They bathed the remaining frame in live human cells and they grew on the leaf’s tiny veins. The team…

Scientists Find Physiological Markers for Depression and Schizophrenia

Neuroscientists say they’ve developed a blood test that could help with early diagnosis of depression and schizophrenia. They published their results in the journal Experimental Physiology.

The group of symptoms collectively known as “depression” may result from a variety of causes. Recent studies have linked the illness to genetics, physical differences in the brain, and even an imbalance of gut bacteria. But regardless of what causes it, speedy detection is the key to treatment. Early diagnosis may be even more important in schizophrenia; one 2004 report found that the later a person was diagnosed, the more severe their symptoms would be, and the less responsive they’d be to treatment.

One potential pathway to diagnosis could be a protein called N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR). Brain scans of people with schizophrenia have shown lower-than-average…