Have we finally found a cure for baldness?
8th Jun 2013 | 08:00
Science that can put hairs on your chest, or head
This Week in Science we've discovered that the Egyptians had iron sent from the heavens, that asteroids can have their own little moons, and that French wine isn't actually all that, well, French.
Plus it looks like we've found a new weapon against the scourge of the flu and, as if that wasn't enough, we might finally have developed a hair-raising cure for male pattern baldness.
Have we finally found a cure for baldness? -- Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have identified a growth factor that causes the regeneration of hair follicles during the healing process of damaged skin. The growth factor, Fgf9, produced over double the normal number of hair follicles in mice when over expressed, causing the researchers to speculate that we could use Fgf9 to treat male pattern baldness.
The growth factor is normally produced by highly-specialised T cells, which form part of your immune system. In humans, we have a very low number of the essential factor-producing gt T cells, resulting in the lack of regrowth of hair on wounded skin. It's thought that Fgf9 could in some way be used to stimulate hair growth in humans, however it may work best when tied to wound healing. It could be that you'd have to scratch your head to get it to grow new hair, something people would probably put up with to cure their baldness. [Nature]
Radiation is holding us back from Mars -- Scientists have run the numbers captured by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which was equipped with radiation detectors for its journey to the red planet, and have found that there's just too much of the stuff whizzing around in deep space.
Despite travelling the vast distance within the shielded interior of a spacecraft, Curiosity racked up enough radiation from galactic cosmic rays to deliver a return-journeying astronaut two-thirds of his lifetime radiation limit, at 0.66 sieverts, in just one year. That's without all the radiation that'll undoubtedly be present on the thin-atmosphered Martian surface.
Unfortunately we don't know what the effects of cosmic rays on the human body might be, as we're naturally shielded from them by Earth's magnetic shield. It seems we'll either have to think of a way to better protect ourselves, or get there much, much faster, both of which are out of our grasp for now. [Science]
Egyptian iron came from space -- Iron found in ancient artefacts dating back to 3,300 BC has been proven to be of alien origin. It seems the ancient Egyptians saw falling rocks from the sky as a present from the gods, taking them and melding their high-nickel content iron into religious artefacts. Scientists resorted to an electron microscope and a CT scanner to prove that the iron had a signature crystalline structure only found within metal formed deep within larger meteors in depths of space.
In fact, pieces of iron in trinkets associated with the rich have been found way ahead of the technological developments required for smelting, showing that iron rained down on Egypt from the heavens at some point. It's possible that these meteorite strikes could have even ignited the Egyptian belief system. [Nature]
Asteroid with its own moon flies past Earth -- A recent fly-by from a large asteroid, which journeys near Earth in its travels through the solar system, has lead astronomers to discover that 1998 QE2, as it is known, has an unexpected mini moon of its own.
The main asteroid is about 2.7km wide, with its satellite companion sized up at about 600m in diameter. According to estimates, around 15 per cent of near-Earth objects, 200m in diameter or larger, are asteroid duos or trios. The mini moon's orbit can tell us how dense its parent is, by combining it with the asteroid's overall size. With that kind of information, astronomers can then work out what the asteroid is made of, which could be very useful information in our asteroid capture or mining efforts going forward. [New Scientist]
French wine isn't quite so French -- It seems the French didn't invent the art of wine making, they inherited it from the Italians, who in turn brought it to the Mediterranean from Iran, Armenia and Georgia around 6,000 years ago.
Researchers discovered molecular traces of wine in ancient amphorae from Italy found in France, which dated to an earlier period than the traces of wine on the grape presses known to have been some of the first in France. It seems the French wine industry was born out of a love of imported Italian wine, sometime in the sixth century B.C. The French may think their wine is the best in the world, but it all started out as a copy of the Italians. [PNAS]
A virus-infused nasal spray might a new weapon against the dreaded flu -- Unfortunately, making an influenza vaccine takes months of work, which means scientists can either play a guessing game, betting on which strain emerges that winter, or have to constantly play catch-up. In the meantime we might have found a new weapon to help stop the spread of the deadly flu.
Researchers have discovered an anti-body that attacks all flu strains, locally protecting you from infection. Our bodies naturally produce this anti-body, but the flu virus tricks our immune system into lowering production and therefore rendering it ineffective. By genetically engineering a benign virus to carry the anti-body's DNA, scientists have been able to create a spray that over produces the protein, potentially protecting us from infection. Tests on mice and ferret noses have shown promising results, even against the deadly H5N1 "bird flu" virus. Hopefully this friendly virus-infused nasal spray will soon be cleared for human use, and we'll finally have an effective topical weapon against the scourge of flu, until we can kill it off once and for all. [Science]
10 genes linked to human intelligence -- It's well known that intelligence is about 50 per cent inherited, which means if your parents are smart, you've got a good chance of inheriting their intelligence. Now, 10 very small genetic variations have been linked with IQ.
Using a large combined genetic data set of 126,000 people, who have had their genomes sequenced, it was possible to attribute small mutations in certain genes to the increased likelihood of academic success. However, the researchers discovered that when they ran the statistics, the overall effect of even the 10 factors combined together was very small indeed. In fact, the proposed hypothesis is that there are 1,000s of these very small mutations, which all add-up together to impact on human intelligence. So, while we've found 10 of them, there many, many more to find before we'll be able to fully predict intelligence based on inherited genetics. [New Scientist]
Mind-controlled drone is go -- It's all very well being able to control a Parrot AR Drone with a phone, but it's not quite the same as controlling it directly with your mind. Now researchers have been able to develop an electrode cap that lets you control a drone by pure thought, with enough control to pilot it through an obstacle course.
The user simply imagines clenching their hands to steer the drone -- the left one to go left, right to go right, and both simultaneously to go up. This causes a change in the brainwave patterns of the motor cortex, which are picked up by the cap and translated into commands for the drone. The hope is that this kind of non-invasive brainwave interface system could be used to control artificial limbs without surgery. Of course, there could be no-end of uses for a reliable and easy to use brain-to-computer interface like this. [Nature]