Girl power! Three US girls sweep Google Science Awards
Three young American women took the top prizes at Google’s first-ever science fair, beating 7,500 other contestants from 91 countries.
The grand prize went to 17-year-old Shree Bose, who discovered a way to improve ovarian cancer treatment for patients who have built up a resistance to chemotherapy drugs, Google announced in a blog post. She wins a $50,000 scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and an internship at CERN.
Naomi Shah, 16, won her age group award with a project demonstrating ways to reduce reliance on asthma medication by improving indoor air quality, and 13-year-old Lauren Hodge won her age group with a study looking at the effect of different marinades on carcinogens in grilled chicken. Both young scientists get $25,000 scholarships and internships at Google and LEGO. The girls’ clean sweep wasn’t planned, but “I was secretly happy to see that happen, because for ages men have dominated the science field, and in many cases women who have done excellent work have been ignored,” a Google judge tells the New York Times.
Pigs are not only delicious, they will soon grow organs for us too
Japanese researchers have hit on a stem cell breakthrough that they say could essentially solve the organ shortages problem—but fair warning, it’s weird.
By injecting stem cells from rats into the embryos of mice that had been genetically modified to be unable to grow their own organs, the researchers have been able to create mice with rat organs. And they believe the same process could be used to create pigs with human parts, the Telegraph reports.
The scientists have already made pigs with human blood, using human blood stem cells. “We are now rather confident in generating functional human organs using this approach,” the lead researcher said. Bonus: Using stem cells from the intended organ recipient could significantly lower the risk of rejection. The most immediate application might be for diabetes—in the mice test, the organ generated happened to be a pancreas, the organ that produces insulin.
New mushroom species named after SpongeBob SquarePants
It wasn’t discovered living under a pineapple or even under the sea, but a new mushroom species has been named after SpongeBob SquarePants.
The species unearthed last year in Malaysia was dubbed Spongiforma squarepantsii because of its spongy similarities to the popular cartoon character, reports National Geographic.
“It’s just like a sponge with these big hollow holes,” says the San Francisco State University researcher who found it. “When it’s wet and moist and fresh, you can wring water out of it and it will spring back to its original size. Most mushrooms don’t do that.” This isn’t the only species named for a cartoon character. A beaked toad discovered last year in Colombia was nicknamed the “Mr. Burns Toad” in honor of the Simpsons character.
Chinese scientists genetically modify cows to produce human breast milk
Chinese scientists have genetically modified dairy cows to produce human breast milk, and hope to be selling it in supermarkets within three years.
The milk produced by the transgenic cows is identical to the human variety and has the same immune-boosting and antibacterial qualities as breast milk, scientists at China’s Agricultural University in Beijing say.
The transgenic herd of 300 was bred by inserting human genes into cloned cow embryos which were then implanted into surrogate cows.
The technology was similar to that used to produce Dolly the sheep.
The milk is still undergoing safety tests but with government permission it will be sold to consumers as a more nutritious dairy drink than cow’s milk.
Workers at the university’s dairy farm have already tasted the milk, and say it is sweeter and stronger than the usual bovine variety.
“It’s good,” said worker Jiang Yao. “It’s better for you because it’s genetically modified.”
The scientists have also produced animals that are resistant to mad cow disease, as well as beef cattle that are genetically modified to produce more nutritious meat.
The director of the research project, Professor Li Ning, says Western concerns about the ethics of genetic modification are misplaced.
“There are 1.5 billion people in the world who don’t get enough to eat,” he said. “It’s our duty to develop science and technology, not to hold it back.
“We need to feed people first, before we consider ideals and convictions.”
In contrast to Europe, China has eagerly embraced genetically modified food.
GM cooking oil, papayas, tomatoes and potatoes are already widely available.
Insect-resistant rice and corn modified to help pigs absorb more nutrients were both recently approved by the government.
Cool! Huge solar flare caught on video by NASA (video)
The biggest solar flare in four years erupted from the Sun on early Tuesday, which is heading towards Earth and could disrupt power grids and satellites. The flare was a different kind as it started out slow, then the sun blasted it off like a volcanic eruption.
A sunspot complex on the solar surface became unstable and erupted, resulting in an M2-class solar flare, a, S1-class radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME). The radiation storm has a minor impact on the high frequency radio in the polar regions.
NASA’s solar dynamics observatory (SDO) observed the solar flare peaking at 1:41 am ET on Tuesday. It has also spotted the iconic surfer’s wave, which holds clues as to how energy moves through the atmosphere known as corona, rolling through the atmosphere of the sun.
“One of the biggest questions about the solar corona is the heating mechanism. The corona is thousand times hotter than the sun’s visible surface, but what heats it up is not well-understood. People have suggested that waves like this might cause turbulence which cause heating, but now we have direct evidence of Kelvin-Helmholtz waves,” said Leon Ofman, solar physicist of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland and Catholic University, Washington.
Discovery of “Worms from Hell” could mean life on Mars
Scientists have discovered the first complex creatures living a mile or more below the surface of the Earth, unlocking the possibility that similar organisms are elsewhere in the universe, the Washington Post reports.
Researchers found the group of nematodes, or roundworms, in water flowing through several gold mines in South Africa. They’ve nicknamed the creatures the “worms from hell,” and likened the discovery to finding “Moby Dick in Lake Ontario.”
While nematodes have previously been found deep on the ocean floor, they’ve typically only been observed within 20 feet of the ground or ocean bed’s surface. The ramifications of this new development reach far beyond Earth: It means complex creatures could exist in similar environments previously thought uninhabitable—particularly below the surface of Mars. “What we found shows that harsh conditions do not necessarily exclude complexity,” a lead researcher says. “Evolution of Martian life might have continued underground.”
More on this story here.
Endeavour astronauts hit trouble during spacewalk
Astronaut Mike Fincke ran into trouble today while trying to lubricate a joint in the life-sustaining solar power system of the International Space Station, losing one bolt and getting a washer stuck in a crevice.
Fincke, one of NASA’s most experienced spacemen, had to settle for a partial lube job, after the bolts holding down covers on the massive joint started popping off unexpectedly. “Bummer,” said his spacewalking partner, Andrew Feustel.
The two men went into overtime, though, to do what they could. They managed to lubricate four sections of the joint, two fewer than planned, and reinstall three covers. The fourth cover was brought back inside because of all the loose bolts. Their spacewalk—the second of four planned for Endeavour’s final space station visit—went 1 1/2 hours longer than planned. It lasted more than eight hours and set the record for the sixth longest in history. “You guys earned your pay for the day,” astronaut Gregory Chamitoff radioed from inside.
Big asteroid to fly ‘this close’ to Earth in November
A massive space rock will fly by Earth in November, and astronomers already are jazzed about getting a rare close-up view, reports Universe Today.
The asteroid, named 2005 YU55, is about the size of an aircraft carrier and will come within about 200,000 miles of Earth on November 8, notes Space.com. Asteroids of this size have come as close before, but scientists have never been as technologically prepared to zoom in as they are now.
This type of asteroid is “thought to be representative of the primordial materials from which our solar system was formed,” says a NASA scientist. “This flyby will be an excellent opportunity to test how we study, document, and quantify which asteroids would be most appropriate for a future human mission.” And don’t worry: It “poses no threat of an Earth collision over, at the very least, the next 100 years.”