Is that bad breath? No, it's just your breathprint

6th Apr 2013 | 11:00

Is that bad breath? No, it's just your breathprint

Photo ID or breath please

In another exciting Week in Science we're suffering from a spot of 'bird flu', we've discovered dolphins actually have names for each other just like we do, and we could soon have living, biological computers.

Meanwhile we've also discovered that your breath, far from being bad, is as unique as your fingerprint, and could be used to both identify you, and diagnose disease.

Breathe here please, we need to check your ID -- We recently heard about how you can diagnose stomach and other cancers from the chemical composition of your breath, but now it seems that each person's breath signature is unique, just like a fingerprint. Using a mass spectrometer, Switzerland-based scientists discovered that the metabolites ejected within each person's breath produce a unique and consistent signature. They can also detect a change associated with disease, which means it could be possible in the future to not only identify someone from their breath, but also to disgnose illness instantly from just a whiff or two. [PloS One]

New 'bird flu' found in China -- You might have thought that 'bird flu' has been and gone, but what's commonly reported as bird or avian flu is simply Influenza that finds its reservoir within birds, but can make the jump to humans. A new strain, designated H7N9, has been reported to have killed two, and caused serious sickness in another, in China. Thankfully there's no indication of human-to-human spread of the disease, which means there's no need to panic just yet, but it seems H7N9 could spread symptomlessly through poultry populations. That's good news for birds, but not so good news for us, as it makes keeping track of its spread much more difficult. [Nature]

Have we just found dark matter? -- It seems we might have, as the ISS-mounted $2-billion particle detector has spotted what looks like an excess of antimatter particles. Antimater electrons or positrons are thought to be produced when two dark-matter particles collide, annihilating each other. However, scientists aren't sure just yet where these excess antimatter particles have come from, as it's possible they could have been spat out by nearby pulsars. Further experiments are needed to study the energy levels of the particles to determine their origin, but it could be that we've taken the first crucial step to detecting and possibly understanding the strange theorised dark matter that fills our universe. [Scientific American]


The Earth has a nuclear reactor at its core -- Geologists have known for some time that the heat emanating from within the core of our home planet wasn't just primordial heat created in the original formation of the planet. Now new evidence from neutrino detectors has pinpointed both uranium and thorium at its nuclear heart, and it's only since the meltdown, and following shutdown, of the nuclear power plants in Japan that scientists have begun to capture these once-masked 'geoneutrinos'. More work is needed, and possibly more detectors spread about the Earth while we're at it, before we'll be able to truly characterise the processes at the centre of the Earth. [Nature]

Heat melts one as another grows -- Scientists think they have found a reason for the rather counter-intuitive phenomenon of melting and growing sea ice. As sea ice in the Artic is rapidly vanishing, due to rising temperatures, Antarctic sea ice is actually growing in size. It seems this is caused by an insulating layer of cool freshwater that's sitting on the sub-surface of the Antarctic sea, deposited by melting shelf ice. This layer protects the existing floating ice from the warmer deeper water, and combined with cooler air, allows more sea ice to form. It's unclear what effect this will have on sea levels, as the cooler air above the Antarctic won't be able to hold as much moisture as previously thought, but it just goes to show how complex the issue of climate and sea level change really is. [Nature Geoscience]


Biological computer breakthrough paves way for living circuits -- We're used to the idea of electricity whizzing around the transistors in our computers; it's what powers the flow of information at our fingertips everyday. But now two separate sets of scientists have independently developed biological transistors, which trade electricity for DNA. The transistor-like system governs the movement of an enzyme along a strand of DNA, using a series of logic gates to enable control of the flow of the system just like an electrical circuit. The next step is to create different combinations of the biological transistors to enable us to build living gadgets, from chips and computers implanted in your body, to smart biological sensors sent out to monitor the environment. There's even speculation that this kind of development could enable living buildings that grow themselves, although that's far, far down the line. [Science]

Dolphins actually call each other by names -- It seems dolphins are even more mentally developed than we first thought. A study suggests that dolphins assign unique whistles to individuals, and call them out when separated from loved ones, which until now has never been observed from any animal, other than humans of course. Bottlenose dolphins have also been shown to give themselves names, or whistles, that encode more information like sex, health, and possibly whether they come in peace. Captive dolphins can learn new whistles and apply them to objects, which shows a very complex and sophisticated vocal language system indeed. [Discovery News]

Dolphins really do have names [Image credit: tolomea]

Climate model finally passes the test of prediction -- Scientists have been using major climate models, based on data collected over the last few decades, to predict what will happen as the global climate of the Earth changes. Until now, predictions have been made over and over, but data validating those predictions has been scarce. Now one major model has been vidicated, by predicting a 0.25 degree C rise between the decade up to 1996 and the 10 years up to 2012, which matched up more or less perfectly with real global temperature measurements over the same periods. However, a slowdown in global temperature rises could put the model's future predictions out. Still, at least the forcasters got something right this time. [New Scientist]

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