Noble Prize Winners Wash Their Hands of Parasites

shutterstock_200494427The winners of the Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine were announced as William C. Campbell, Satoshi Omura, and Youyou Tu for their advancement in parasite fighting medication. Unlike the Magic School Bus episode in which Ms. Frizzle leads the kids on a germ fighting adventure, this medical breakthrough is helping hundreds of millions. Campbell and Omura won for developing the drug Avermectin, a cure for river blindness and elephantiasis. They are sharing the $960,000 prize money with Tu, the inventor of the drug Artemisinin which is responsible for significantly reducing deaths from malaria.

While these parasites might be not as terrifying as the worm-like space creature from Alien, they are just as merciless. Over a third of the world’s population suffers from parasitic worms. While the most afflicted areas are sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, these parasites affect the entire world. Not to continue being a Negative Nancy, but malaria is responsible for more than 450,000 deaths each year.

Dr. Tu previously won a Lasker Award in 2011 for the development of Artemisinin. Her work centered on using ancient Chinese remedies to find a cure for malaria. Her work includes researching 380 extracts from 200 different plants. Her discovery is now a working pharmaceutical that saves over 100,000 lives in Africa annually. When combined with other therapies, Artemisinin can reduce the mortality rate of malaria by more than 20 percent.

The three winners will be awarded diplomas and gold medals during a ceremony in December. Hopefully their work will inspire further research that leads to the complete eradication of disease-causing parasites. Lastly, a note to future Nobel Prize contenders: unfortunately, the Nobel Assembly does not have enough participation ribbons for all of the papier-mâché volcano entries.

NASA Reveals Martians Should Drink 8 Glasses of Water a Day

shutterstock_92516068Mars has been permeating the news lately with a human exploration in the planning process and films such as The Martian propagating the hope that one day man will step foot on the Red Planet. Just this past week, NASA’s press agents announced the organization had an exciting new discovery to share, building anticipation across the globe that little green aliens are indeed real. While some people breathed a sigh of disappointment when this was not the case, others became excited when NASA confirmed a theory that space explorers have had for a while: Mars has water.

The different terrestrial formations decorating the planet, including what are now referred to as “Mars blueberries,” were theorized to have formed from water erosion. NASA’s ground-based observations through the rover finally discovered liquid water that was salty, briny, and unrecognizable compared to the water found on Earth.

NASA believes that over 20 percent of the planet was once made of ocean. Now, only 13 percent of the original water supply is present on the planet, mostly in the form of ice caps. The water found uses a heavier form of hydrogen paired with other chemicals to keep water from leaving the thin atmosphere on Mars, causing it to seep into the ground and freeze. Some scientists believe that the existence of water in the curst will finally yield the discovery of microbe life.

The Mars rover discovered methane and other elements that suggest life on Mars is or was a possibility. The discovery of water on Mars is one more step towards finding life outside of Earth. If not, a type of colonization of the Red Planet may underway in the upcoming centuries as the initial mission to Mars prepares to discover whether the hazardous conditions are livable. And if we never find life on Mars, perhaps the real Martians will simply be our future great-great-grandchildren.

Watch out Ken, Barbie is Talking Back

shutterstock_243417928Mattel, the creator of the Barbie dolls, just announced that Barbie may not be the “dumb blonde” stereotype consumers always believed. In recent years, the toy company has come under fire for portraying Barbie as an inferior intellect; in 1992 the company even programmed Barbie to say “math class is tough!” Fortunately, for all of the young girls and boys out there that are ready for a Barbie to challenge their imagination and minds, Mattel just announced the creation of an artificial intelligence Barbie.

Since as early as the 1800s, toy makers have tried to make dolls speak in hope that one day they will one day sing and talk with a child. Barbie first found her voice in 1968 when a pull string activated 8 programmed phrases, a huge advancement from when dolls could simply say “papa.” This move to make Barbie more lifelike through artificial technology will help create a dialogue between the doll and the children playing with her with over 8,000 programmed lines of dialogue.

The technology is similar to voice recognition devices such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. By partnering with ToyTalk, an artificial intelligence company located in San Francisco, Mattel hopes to release Hello Barbie before the $6 billion holiday toy season begins.

In one demonstration of Hello Barbie, a young girl sat down with the doll and played a number of games. Some of these included helping Barbie cook pizza and s’mores while other conversations worked through complex social problems. During one session, Barbie asked the young girl for advice on how to apologize to a friend after a fight. She is also developed to remember details about her child companion, including favorite colors, if a child has same-sex parents, or if a loved one had passed away. Perhaps the days of Geppetto’s Pinocchio and Toy Story are not a far off reality for children all over the world.


Two Black Holes are Better than One

NASA recently found the first known existence of binary black holes in the middle of the closest quasar to Earth. The scientific discovery belongs to galaxy Markarian 231, the nearest galaxy to our planet that houses a quasar at 600 million light-years away. Quasars are the brightest objects in the universe and are formed from the infinitely hot matter inside of black holes. As black holes obliterate nearby planets, stars, and other debris, an accretion disk is formed from the fiery force field which can be brighter than entire galaxies.

Black Hole

The discovery was made by a combination of U.S. and Chinese scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff is giving scientists more insight on the function of black holes and possible prevalence of binary black holes. The ultraviolet color of the quasar in Markarian 231 may give researchers a clue in finding more twin black holes.

The increased energy of two black holes and the quasar is causing a drastic increase in star production. While black holes are created due to a collapse of a star, they are also capable of creating new stars. The black holes in Markarian 231 are producing at a rate 100 times faster than the Milky Way, which is home to one black hole but no Quasar.

There is a space odyssey in the making when the inevitable occurs in a few hundreds of thousands of years: the two black holes collide. Currently, the primary black hole is approximately 150 million times larger than our sun. Its little sister is only four million times larger. Feel free to root for the underdog, however it’s pretty clear which black hole is going to win this fight. What isn’t clear is what exactly the collision will trigger: the end of the universe? Or just a slight hiccup in our Netflix streaming connection?

30,000-Year-Old Virus Comes Back from the Dead

shutterstock_113494426While more scientists would have you believe that rising sea levels will be the cause of worldwide headaches in a few decades, a new discovery may literally cause humanity headaches in the near future. Researchers recently discovered a giant, 30,000-year-old virus frozen in the thawed permafrost of a frozen region in Siberia. This discovery comes on the heels of scientists warning of melting Polar Regions and rising sea levels.

Okay, so the virus is technically not harmful to humans. The ancient virus is named Pithovirus sibericum and only infects amoebas. However, this new discovery may lead to a number of other frozen viruses, bacteria, and previously extinct organisms that could threaten human health. This includes viruses that previously caused planet-wide epidemics, which only furthers the fear of an Armageddon virus.

Scientists have already discovered previous giant virus families: Megaviridae and Pandoraviridae. These types of viruses have 50-250 times as many genes as modern day viruses such as AIDS or the flu. For instance, Pithovirus has 500 genes in comparison to the 10 genes of AIDS.

The discovery of Frosty the Snow Virus is not a surprise. Giant frozen viruses have been found in thawing permafrost since 2003 and scientists are only now beginning to discover the nature of the organisms. Drilling and oil exploration in the Arctic is bridging the previous gap between modern immunizations and old world viruses. If there is a world-ending virus awoken from cryosleep, it will be a comfort knowing that history rarely repeats itself.


Man Eats Nothing but McDonald’s for 180 days…and loses weight

shutterstock_220538989There have been plenty of diet fads over the years as people search for a way to lose as much weight as possible as quickly as possible.  Many people put on this weight as a result of too much fast food, but an Iowa science teacher is silencing the fast-food haters and showing that, if done right, fast food can actually lead to losing weight.  As a part of a class experiment, John Cisna embarked on the hypothesis that a person could end up in better shape after eating McDonald’s every day, three meals a day. This included the healthier options as well as Big Mac’s and French fries on the daily. Cisna’s students were tasked with planning his meals—he could eat no more than 2,000 calories a day and had to stay within the FDA’s daily recommendations for fat, sugar, protein, carbs, and a number of other nutrients.  He also started walking for 45 minutes a day.

Even though this sounds like the beginning of Supersize Me, a documentary by Morgan Spurlock who packed on 24 pounds in the course of a month by eating McDonald’s every day, Cisna had experienced very different results. By the end of the six months, the science teacher had lost 60 pounds—a virtual dream come true for grease and fast-food loving Americans.  So what does Cisna have to say about his experiment?  He says his results show that individuals should take individual accountability and responsibility for their food choices and not be so quick to blame fast food restaurants for their weight.

Even though Cisna does not recommend the diet for everyone, he says the experiment has changed his life for the better.  So, next time you’re eating a Big Mac, you can actually tell people you’re on a new health kick.


No pain no gain in the race for the fountain of youth

The key to longevity has been linked to many things over the years, from this lady who claims booze is her secret, to the more traditional approach of living a healthy lifestyle by working out and eating well.


A recent study out of China now links longevity to eating spicy food. The study found a slightly lower risk of dying young related to eating spicy foods frequently. Basically, for those looking for the elusive fountain of youth, the answer very well may be pain. If you want to live longer, you could live in pain busting your butt to be healthy at the gym, or while enduring copious amounts of painfully tasty spicy food.

The study observed 500,000 people in China between the ages of 30 and 79 over the course of seven years. By the end of the study, approximately 20,000 had passed away. Ultimately, the study found that those who ate spicy food a few times a week were 10% less likely to die during the study, compared to those who ate it less than once a week.

Scientists say there is not enough research as of yet to identify a definitive link and cause between the two. However, it is speculated that it could be attributed to the link between eating spicy foods and lower inflammation, improve breakdown of fat in the body, or modified stomach bacteria.

So, start throwing back more cold ones and enjoy something muy caliente in the name of health.

NASA discovers closest thing to Earth 2.0, yet does not confirm nor deny alien life

NASA‘s Kepler space telescope has discovered a planet that is widely considered the most Earth-like of any to date: Keplershutterstock_183837821 452b. Kepler 452b is just one in a large series of discoveries by Kepler, which has been in use since 2009 and has since discovered 5000 potential planets.

Kepler 452b is estimated to be about 6 billion years old, making it 1.5 billion years older than Earth, and is 60 percent larger in diameter. Scientists believe that it has the same rocky exterior as Earth. These factors combined would mean Kepler 452b has twice the gravity of earth, meaning a visit to the planet would make you weigh twice as much. So to those on the weight-loss grind, 0 out of 10 would not recommend visiting this planet. It orbits its star at about the same distance and speed as earth and sun, which makes for a very good possibility of having liquid water on its surface.

In regards to whether this new Kepler discovery is inhabited by life, like Earth, John Grunsfeld, NASA’s science mission chief, says we are “one small step in answering that question” which does not necessarily deny the existence of other life forms, and is therefore a big win for the alien enthusiast in your life. Basically, if you’ve not yet found your earthly Bizarro world, we might be one step closer to finding it out in space 1,400 light-years away. Seinfeld fans rejoice.

You Won’t Like Me When I’m Hangry: The Science Behind Hunger Induced Anger

shutterstock_226371208Everyone has felt it – the short temper that creeps over you when the waiter seems to serve every other table before so much as taking your order; when your first meal of the day is the free samples at Costco and the person in front of you takes the very last artisan meatball; when the fast food drive-though could not move ANY slower. This phenomenon of hunger-induced anger has not gone unnoticed by anyone whose ever gone to the supermarket with an empty stomach.

This state of being “hangry” – a word invented to describe the feeling of being hungry-angry – was previously an unexplained correlation. Now, however, researchers the University of Sydney seem to have found an evolutionary explanation for this feeling. In her book “Don’t Go Hungry for Life,” Amanda Salis explains the chemical mechanisms that lead to this sensation.  Our glucose levels drop as time passes since our last meal. When this occurs, our bodies are alerted to produce other chemicals, most notably, adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol. These are stress hormones, the same that one would feel in a fight-or-flight scenario. It’s these hormones that increase ones irritability.

Before you get frustrated at all of this unnecessary stress your body is putting you through, realize that this stress has not always been unnecessary. This chemical reaction originally served as a survival mechanism for early humans. Salis explains how this could have developed over the course of human evolution, noting “if hungry organisms stood back and graciously let others eat before them, their species could die out.” Species that exhibit this stress response, therefore, are more likely to survive.

So next time your “hanger” has you ready to become an uncontrollable rage monster, remember that it’s only natural- natural selection that is.

Monkey See, Monkey (Wired to Another Monkey’s Brain at NYU) Do

shutterstock_295328978At the risk of sounding like a pitch for a bad Syfy Channel remake of the “Planet of the Apes,” researchers at Duke University announced they have successfully wired monkey brains together in order to create what they are calling “organic computers” or, “brainets.” Researcher, Miguel Nicolelis, who apparently takes the phrase “two heads are better than one” too literally, led the team of neurobiologist who created the monkey network in order to see if two brains could collaborate in order to complete tasks more efficiently.

The study was conducted by implanting electrodes into the brains of several monkeys. By picking up the signals from several hundred electrodes, researchers were able to monitor about 3,000 neurons. Monkeys were then interconnected to a computer which displayed a digital monkey arm on the screen. The monkeys were then assigned the task of directing the digital monkey arm to a target. If successful, the monkeys were rewarded with juice.

Additional studies were conducted using four rats as well. These rats were directly wired to each other so that neural information could be passed from one rat to another when one of those rats responded to a stimulus. According to researchers, these ratborgs were at times able to perform certain tasks better than a single, un-wired rat would.

Nicolelis states that the purpose of the study was to explore the possibility of accelerating rehab for those suffering from neurological damage. Because of the long and difficult process these patients have to go through in order to relearn basic motor skills, Nicolelis believes that if a healthy brain could be wired to a recovering patient, then the healthy brain could essentially communicate with the damaged brain and teach it how to regain these motor skills.