17 Jul

This Week in Science 07-17-2015

Mosquitos are not only are a nuisance, they also can carry numerous diseases. But good luck outsmarting them. The carbon dioxide you exhale, the look of high-contrast objects, and the warmth of bitable bodies all attract mosquitos, but in interacting ways that make it difficult for us to beat them. A recent study concludes that the independent and repetitive nature of the sensory-motor reflexes renders mosquitoes’ host-seeking strategy annoyingly robust.

A mosquito (far left) mixes strategies and clues as it homes in on its next blood meal.

 

For those with chronic pain, a new hope of a potential long-lasting treatment may be in the future. As reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, scientists injected mice with a spinal cord injury with cells extracted from mouse bone marrow. These cells flocked to the injured cells and produced a pain-relieving protein, called transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGFB1). The specialized cells found their ultimate destination by following chemical signals released by the injured cells. The cells were able to relieve pain in less than one day and the effects lasted for over a month.

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It turns out that sugar is the culprit of making us want a nap after those large meals. A recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that an increase in glucose (a simple sugar found in most everything) leads to “amping up” of specialized neurons that act as sleep-inducing cells in the brain. These neurons can directly sense the glucose in their neighborhood, other experiments revealed. And the more glucose the neurons detected, the more they fired their sleep-inducing signals. There might even be a good reason to feel drowsy after a large meal. By sleeping, an animal, or human, will stay close to a good food source.

Imagine when someone gets out of hand in a bar. A very burly guy (usually) will appear from seemingly thin air and ask the no-good-doer to leave. This guy is called a bouncer and it is his job it is to keep the party from getting out of control. Scientists have shown that the gene Apc acts as the cellular bouncer. By switching Apc on, researchers turned mouse cancer cells back into normal intestinal tissue. This provides optimism for a genetic approach to beat cancer.

Other randomness:

A 50-million-year-old fossil sperm was discovered in Antarctica.

A handful of studies are linking shift work with not only disruption of our circadian clocks but also affects our metabolic function leading to higher body mass index and increased risks of metabolic syndrome, cancer, and sleep disorders.

And in case you were under a rock the last few days, NASA’s New Horizons flew by Pluto and was able to capture some amazing images (see below). You can see more here and here.

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Pluto is dominated by the feature that is informally named the “Heart”. The Heart is approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across.
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Full-frame images of Pluto and its moon Charon. This image is a composite image to show the relative reflectivity, size, separation, and orientations of Pluto and Charon.