Welcome to the first edition of This Week In Science! For the inaugural post, I’ve put together This Week in Science: Halloween Edition! This is a new weekly roundup of science news I think is cool.
Since it’s almost Halloween, here’s some science news loosely branded as creepy and/or terrifying! Beware! OoooOOOoooo! Science!
To misquote Yoda, it may be possible to re-learn what you have un-learned. A web-based speech therapy program developed at Northwestern University has shown promising results in helping patients with dementia re-learn words they’ve “lost.”
Everyday life becomes difficult for aphasic patients when simple words go “missing.” According to Northwestern, after undergoing their still-experimental program, called the Communication Bridge,
“One woman could once again identify the tulips and daffodils in her garden. And a man restored his ability to issue commands to his border collie to herd the sheep on his farm and order his favorite meal from the drive-through at Steak ‘n Shake. […]”
“One Colorado woman, after eight weeks of therapy and practice with virtual flashcards, could once again name the flowers in her garden and identify her golf swings. A woman from Alabama was able to retrieve the names of her grandchildren.”
The program involves a patient evaluation which then leads to video-chat sessions with a speech pathologist, and homework such as virtual flashcards. Northwestern’s study showed that the patients improved after the eight weeks of therapy, and maintained that improvement for six months.
There’s hope yet for your dream of a friendly pet dinosaur! Or… credibility for your nightmare that birds are just dinosaurs in disguise.
New fieldwork by the University of Alberta on a dig site in Mongolia reveals a bonebed with a large group of Avimimus, bird-like dinosaurs. This suggests to the paleontologists that the dinosaurs were indeed living together as a group, which might constitute an actual flock. Cue Sam Neill from Jurassic Park: “They DO move in herds!”
From the article: “”The common mythology of dinosaurs depicts solitary, vicious monsters running around eating everything,” explains Gregory Funston, PhD student and Vanier scholar at the University of Alberta. “Our discovery demonstrates that dinosaurs are more similar to modern animals than people appreciate. Although the players are different, this evidence shows that dinosaurs were social beings with gregarious behaviour who lived and died together in groups.””
IT CAME FROM WITHIN!
Researchers at MIT recently advanced towards the goal of harnessing the body’s own immune system to destroy tumors. Experimenting on mice, and using a four-pronged attack involving both branches of the immune system, they successfully made aggressive tumors (melanoma, lymphoma, and breast cancer) completely disappear.
On its own, the body’s immune system often has difficulty attacking cancerous cells, since they can secrete immune-suppressing chemicals. Irvine and Dane Wittrup combined their recent research to develop this specific four-part treatment: an antibody and a vaccine targeted to the tumor, a chemical that helps T cells (specially targeted immune cells) and a chemical that blocks a certain receptor on those T cells so they can stay active longer to fight the tumor. A combination of those four therapies helped to, yes, make some aggressive tumors in mice COMPLETELY DISAPPEAR.
THE CHEMICAL SCREAMS OF CORN
OR, IT *ALSO* CAME FROM WITHIN!
When corn is being eaten by caterpillars, it can chemically call for help! This corn self-defense unfolds in a horrifically vengeful way: the imperiled tender young corn seedlings release particular chemicals whose scent attracts parasitic wasps, which lay eggs which hatch into larvae which in turn… eat the caterpillar, starting with its internal organs.
Yes, the parasitic wasps recognize the smell of the corn under attack, and land on the corn in order to lay their eggs inside the very bodies of the nibbling caterpillars. The eggs hatch into wasp larvae, which eat the caterpillars from the inside out until the baby wasps emerge, presumably triumphantly.
Researchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, Cornell University, and the Boyce Thompson Institute used 26 varieties of corn to determine which genes are involved with generating the scent chemicals, called terpenes. Some varieties of corn are better at this than others; knowing more about the process could help scientists breed ever more effectively vengeful corn (which could reduce the need for pesticide use).
DIDN’T THE MOVIE “GRAVITY” TOTALLY FREAK YOU OUT?
OR: LIFE IN SPACE
Did you know there’s a blog where you can see the International Space Station’s daily report? It outlines everything they did that day on the station, from the exciting to the excitingly mundane. For example, on October 23rd, they changed the 9-volt batteries in the crew quarters, which power the alarm speakers and the exit lights. It’s the space equivalent of changing the batteries in their smoke detectors. Which you should remember to do soon.
Oh yeah, also on the same day they successfully helped the recently-launched Cygnus cargo spacecraft to dock; it brought them 5000 pounds of food, supplies, and equipment for science experiments.
If you’d enjoy peeking in at the daily lives of astronauts—or if you want to terrify yourself by learning all the things that could possibly go wrong (on October 24th, they had a problem with the Urine Processor Assembly—what if the ISS came apart because the pee machine broke? and also they’re doing experiments on FIRE up there, holy snaps) you can check out the ISS Daily Summary Report Blog.
Brain: From Flickr, Internet Archive Book Images, “The brain as an organ of mind” (1896)
Dinosaur: From Flickr, Thunderchild7
Swamp Monster: From Flickr, courtesy Harvey Finch
Screaming Corn: From Dane Boe, gagfilms.com
Gravity: From Warner Brothers