Monday, September 28, 2015

Water on Mars Confirmed!

A Nasa image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows dark, narrow, 100-metre streaks on the surface from summer streams of salty water. "What we are going to announce today, Mars is not the dry arid planet that we thought of in the past.  Today, we are going to announce that under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars." - Jim Green, Director of planetary science at NASA headquarters

As of today, strong evidence has been found on Mars to support that liquid water can exist and does exist on the Martian surface.  Specifically, salty water (water containing perchlorates) has been found on Mars creating dark streaks along the surface.

As of this moment, this is a brand new story so not a whole lot is known about what exactly is going on on Mars.  As far as we know, the water only happens occasionally on the surface in regards to the distance from the Sun and other factors.  "Nevertheless," as Stuart Clark says on CNN, "the news that there is (occasionally) flowing water on the surface of Mars boosts the chances of using it to support astronauts when we launch a crewed mission to the Red Planet."

In addition, this opens up the possibility of some sort of microbe or form of life that could exist on Mars.  Could there be microbes in the water, or microbes that use the water as a source of nutrients and energy that exist on the surface?  Or could there be a different life form that uses the water on Mars?  The questions are endless, the possibilities immense, but we now know in almost certainty: WATER EXISTS ON MARS.

Here are the links to the CNN story and video:

http://www.theguardian.com/science/across-the-universe/live/2015/sep/28/water-on-mars-buildup-to-nasa-mystery-solved-announcement-live

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/28/us/mars-nasa-announcement

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Wasp Venom Kills Cancer Cells

Now wait a minute, who thought to try and see if this worked?

Well it does!  The Brazilian wasp Polybia paulista protects itself from predators by secreting a venom that contains the toxin MP1.  This toxin selectively kills cancer cells while leaving the normal cells completely alone.  The toxin basically accomplishes this by disrupting the cell membrane in cancerous cells, causing the cells to lyse (basically create holes in the cell membrane that erupt the cell's inner guts out of the cell membrane) and die.  Interestingly, the host's normal cells are left intact, indicating that there may be a property in cancerous cell membranes that may differ slightly from a normal cell, allowing MP1 to act on the cell membrane. 

Unfortunately, that's about what the scientists know at this point.  They are currently working to create model membranes and expose certain lipids and components of the membranes to MP1, and figure out just how exactly the wasp's toxin selectively kills cancer cells.  In addition, more information can be found here:

http://phys.org/news/2015-09-brazilian-wasp-venom-cancer-cells.html

Now I'm not suggesting that one go to Brazil, and sit outside until a Brazilian wasp stings him or her.  Please don't do that, I never said that was a good idea.  But, maybe someday, we can use the toxin MP1 to formulate a combatant against cancer cells.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Giant Viruses in Siberia?

A group of french scientists are working on reanimating a prehistoric virus from underground deep within Siberia, a giant virus from almost 30,000 years ago!

The virus, known as Mollivirus sibericum, is a giant virus.  The average size of a normal virus is about 250–400 nm, while Mollivirus sibericum measures about over half of a micron.  Now to us, this doesn't seem very big.  When looking under a light microscope (microscopes found in everyday labs), you can't really see any viruses.  But with these giant viruses, you actually can see them through a light microscope using a high powered lens.

Now the nature of this virus is unknown.  We don't exactly know what it will do to us humans, animals, or plants quite yet.  And don't worry, as the article states, they will only reanimate the virus if they are absolutely sure that the virus won't harm animals or humans.  The article and links to the research papers and data can be found here:

http://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-are-reawakening-a-giant-virus-frozen-in-the-siberian-wilderness

It will be interesting to see what these giant prehistoric viruses do and how they interact with our world now.  As more and more companies and groups of researchers dive deeper into the ice to tap into mineral deposits, many interesting microorganisms, some from long ago, could be discovered.  The risks of that, however, should be kept in mind.  As Jean-Michel Claverie said when she talked to Science Alert, "If we are not careful, and we industrialise these areas without putting safeguards in place, we run the risk of one day waking up viruses such as small pox that we thought were eradicated.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Reprogramming Cancer Cells

Wait what?  We can reprogram cancer cells?

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, US, injected mRNA into the cancerous cells to inhibit their growth completely.  So the cancer cells would essentially be told to stop reproducing, or as Sarah Knapton wrote in her article in The Telegraph, "it was much like applying brakes to a speeding car" (Knapton).  So through this experiment, to answer the above question, yes.  We might have found a way to stop cancer from growing, mutating, and spreading.

However, this is a brand new experiment, conducted this past week.  Although the test was only applied on human cells, the scientists hope to target larger tumors in the near future to "shut them off".  So far, the group has mainly focused on the effects "in very aggressive human cell lines from breast cancer and bladder cancer" (Knapton).

You can check out the article here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11821334/Cancer-cells-programmed-back-to-normal-by-US-scientists.html

Granted, as said above, this is a brand new experiment, so the full paper and data are published on the journal Nature Cell Biology, and an account is needed to read the specifics of the experiment and the results.  But this is a huge step in stopping cancer!  As noted by Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, “There’s a long way to go before we know whether these findings, in cells grown in a laboratory, will help treat people with cancer. But it’s a significant step forward in understanding how certain cells in our body know when to grow, and when to stop. Understanding these key concepts is crucial to help continue the encouraging progress against cancer we’ve seen in recent years.”