Nasa finds Mars really could have sustained carbon-based life
16th Mar 2013 | 12:00
Life, as we know it, Jim
This week, we've proven that we have indeed found the elusive Higgs Boson, our biggest ever telescope array has finally come online, and we've discovered that alcohol can give your brain an energy boost.
In other news, researchers have been able to grow new human teeth, the cloning barrier has been broken, and the Mars rover, Curiosity, has found a bunch of critical chemicals that suggest the Red Planet could have supported life. It's all in this week's Week in Science.
Yes, Curiosity finds Mars really could have sustained life - Nasa's Curiosity rover blasted off this rock towards the Red Planet to investigate a couple of fundamental questions, one of which has now been answered. Yes, Mars really could have sustained life. Curiosity has discovered some of the important elements required for life as we know it - carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen phosphorus, and sulphur - in a sedimentary rock near a dry stream in Gale Crater. It also found that the once water-bearing surface wasn't full of life-destroying-levels of oxidising chemicals. There's actually just enough, giving further weight to the possibility of at least microbial life on Mars. Of course, this doesn't mean we've discovered evidence of actual life on Mars, but it certainly makes it ever more likely we will. [NASA]
The world's largest telescope array is now open for business - Meet the enormous ALMA, the world's biggest telescope array. The Atacama Large Millimetre Array is finally fully open for business this week, marking the completion of the biggest ground-based astronomical project ever conceived. ALMA's 64 massive antennae are designed to chart extended objects in the night's sky, like enormous cosmic clouds, and have already captured incredible images of spiral star systems and colliding Antennae Galaxies. [New Scientist]
Looks like we really have found the Higgs Boson - Scientists at CERN have now shown that, without a shadow of a doubt, we have found the Higgs Boson, the particle that gives the universe its mass. We still don't know which Higgs Boson we've found, as there are various theorised types, but results tend to indicate that it's the Standard Model variety. We won't know for sure for a while yet, but this is a massive step forward for physics and, thankfully, no black holes were formed in the process. [CERN]
Alcohol actually fuels binge-drink brains - A new study has shown that it's not just the intoxicating effects of alcohol that gives long-term heavy drinkers a buzz, it actually fuels their brains with extra energy. That's because the liver breaks down the alcohol, dumping out acetate as part of the bi-product of its metabolism. The acetate is then pumped around the body by the blood, including to the brain. Once enough acetate builds up around the brain, it is actually able burn the acetate just as it would glucose, giving the brain a huge energy boost. It's thought that this energy boost could form part of the severe withdrawal symptoms experienced by recovering alcoholics. [Journal of Clinical Investigation]
New blood test can track cancer - Results from a large pilot study to test blood for cancerous DNA have shown that not only can cancer be detected in the blood, but that the quantity of tumour DNA in the samples indicates the state and amount of tumour growth in the patient. Previously, painful and invasive biopsies were needed to track tumour growth and response to cancer therapy. Further, randomised study is needed before this technique can be put into clinical practice, but if things go well a simple blood test could help diagnose cancer quicker and more easily than ever before. [Nature]
Dentures and fillings might soon be a thing of the past -- Looking after your teeth is a daily battle -- brushing, flossing, mouth-washing - but tooth decay is almost inevitable. Good news, then, that researchers from King's College London have managed to actually grow new teeth using human gum epithelial cells and special mouse cells. The mouse cells instructed the human gum cells to grow into new teeth, and that's exactly what they did, complete with viable roots and enamel-coated crown. Unfortunately scientists think that it'll be another 10 to 15 years before your dentist will have access to this kind of therapy, so you'll need to hang onto your nashers for just a little bit longer. [Journal of Dental Research]
How many times can you clone a mouse? 580, apparently -- A mouse has smashed the cloning record books by being cloned 580 times across 25 generations. All the clones were viable, healthy, and could mate and birth pups normally. This shows that cloning could be a viable technique for reproduction, especially in agriculture. For instance, a particularly good dairy super-cow could be cloned into an army of super-cows producing milk in much large volumes. The secret is apparently a chemical that resets the cloned nucleus containing your DNA of choice back to an embryonic state. The next step is to attempt to clone the mice from fur, stuffed animals and mouse poop, which certainly would be a game changer. [Stem Cell]
Fancy doing a bit of genetic engineering? Download yourself a gene -- Ever since the discovery of DNA, followed by the sequencing of genomes, scientists have been genetically engineering model organisms like E. coli to produce all sorts of things, with varying degrees of success. Now a store has opened up from which you can actually download standardised genes and the pre-leading DNA sequences - upstream and downstream elements like promoters and regulators - that make them work. This is a massive step forward in synthetic biology and should help speed up certain types of research no-end. Soon we might even get to the stage where anyone could download genes, and with a few tutorials and basic tools, stick them into cells of their choosing. We're apparently 3D-printing stuff at home, so why shouldn't we make our own glowing microbes? [Nature]