Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Today in Geek, 12/16/2009

Today's headlines were full of geeky medical news, but I have to start with the story that has me nearly giddy.

Nearby "Super Earth" May Have Oceans, Thick Atmosphere. We found a planet that probably has a huge ocean of liquid water. It probably doesn't have life, but we're getting closer. As a researcher put it in another article on the subject, "This planet is a harbinger of what’s to come. It’s not just that we can study this one object in more detail. It’s the torch, telling us about this new thing that’s going to happen." This planet has astronomers talking about the likelihood that we'll find an inhabitable (and possibly inhabited) planet soon, and that's just awesome.

Dying Star Mimics Our Sun's Death. Have you ever wondered what our Sun will look like after it eats the inner Solar System? Ok, probably not, but I have, and now I know. Researchers with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have released a video of a pulsating nearby star going through its red giant phase, the same phase our Sun will go through in about 5 billion years. Keep in mind that, at its largest, that star is roughly the size of the orbit of Mars.

Synthetic Nano-Platelets Added to Blood Cut Healing Time in Half and Artificial Red Blood Cells To Aid Drug Delivery, Imaging. Two independent teams released news today about advances in fake blood. The first team produced "artificial red blood cells," essentially tiny packets that could be used to deliver drugs, dyes, etc deep into tissues (because they're small enough to fit through capillaries). It doesn't look like they could be targeted yet, but just getting them to fit into such small spaces is a big jump. The second team produced synthetic platelets to help stop bleeding faster. The nanoparticles work pretty much the same as platelets, crosslinking to clot the blood. Treating wounds with the nanoparticles—or injecting them to help with internal bleeding—cut bleeding time in half in rats. Assuming they can be mass produced and pass testing, I can imagine these being very useful to EMTs.

Scientists Decode Entire Genetic Code of Cancer. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what this one means. Cancers are caused by combinations of many, many mutations. No individual cancer patient has the same set of mutations as any other cancer patient. So I'm not sure yet exactly what they mean by this story, but scientists have apparently mapped the 30,000 mutations associated with melanoma (skin cancer), and the 23,000 mutations associated ith lung cancer. I'll have to dig deeper to figure out what that means, exactly, but it sounds like it's probably a big deal.

Crowds of Bacteria Turn Gears a Million Times Their Size. I love this video. The bacteria aren't really doing anything "useful," they're just swimming around randomly... but the shapes of the gears translate those random motions into work (turning the gears in the desired way). I love the idea of future devices being powered by the random motions of bacteria.

Today was a pretty big day in geek. Did I miss anything? If so, let me know in the comments.

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