The following is a small collection of recent scientific research and discoveries.
- Applications of cell phagocytosis
A recent study done by Harvard University concluded that cells, through phagocytosis, can engulf silicon nanowires, after which the nanowire resides near the nucleus of the cell. Normally, phagocytosis is a process where cells contort and stretch to consume waste and debris, and for the immune system, pathogens. So far, people have yet to discover which cells do or do not perform phagocytosis, and more complex machines as of yet haven’t been tested.
Previously, silicon nanowires, along with other electrical parts, were able to be placed inside cells by creating a hole in the cell with electricity. With this new method, nanowires can be introduced more easily, like a drug. Although these are only the first steps according to John Zimmerman, a biophysicist at Harvard, the discovery could lead toward introducing electronical devices into cells. Applications of such a feat include cell control and even replacing current electronics for brain stimulation. In this research, scientists tested umbilical vein cells, rat nerve cells, and immune cells of mice, which all used phagocytosis.
- Emulating human speech in monkeys
In many aspects, monkeys have always had close ties with humans. They have been known to be somewhat intelligent relative to other animals, using tools and communicating with one another. There is one species, the macaque, that in theory could sound out enough vowels to speak English, among other languages. Despite its adept vocal chords, the macaque’s brain capability is inadequate for enabling its airways to form words. Researchers have studied X-rays of these monkeys during several activities—such as grunting, cooing, and eating various foods—and used that data to make a computer model based off how the primates could potentially talk and what it would sound like. There is some debate over whether a macaque trying to speak English would actually be distinguishable. Recent computer models show, however, that although macaque speech is not nearly as clear as human speech, it would still be somewhat understandable.
- Safer painkillers
There is a major flaw that is present in some drugs and medications: body tolerance. After some time, the body will start to become immune to the effects of drugs, meaning that in order for a drug to continue being effective, it will have to be consumed in increasingly larger doses. This is a problem that is currently plaguing users of morphine, an opioid that is widely regarded as the best painkiller. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, morphine addiction killed around two million Americans in 2014. The negative side effects of morphine happen when mu, the brain receptor type for painkilling, activates, causing two kinds of chemical cascades: Gi and beta-arrestin. Gi causes the pain relief, while beta-arrestin causes constipation and slowed breathing. What researchers are trying to do is find a drug that can trigger one cascade without the other. Bryan Roth at the University of North Carolina, after screening around 3 million compounds through mice, narrowed the range of possible solutions to 23 and found PMZ21, a painkiller that doesn’t have the other side effects of morphine. Of course, this just means that it is an effective painkiller for mice, and it would need to go though further testing to be applicable to humans.