Scientific Discoveries this week: 4-25-11

London, United Kingdom – Mosquitoes that are unable to transmit the deadly malaria virus have been successfully developed by researchers, but difficulties in making the new species catch on has driven a group of scientists at the Imperial College of London to work on developing genes that will allow them to spread in the wild. The new mosquitoes have been around for many years, but until recently they were unable to survive in the larger world population. And with hundreds of billions of wild mosquitoes in the world, even a million of these so-called ”disease-proof” mosquitoes would have no effect. With these new genes, the mosquitoes will reproduce more rapidly, hopefully causing the new species to out-compete the wild species.

Fribourg, Switzerland – Self-healing plastics may become more widely used, and for a wider variety of purposes. A team of scientists at the University of Fribourg in Fribourg, Switzerland, have developed a polymer that can heal itself when exposed to ultraviolet light. Self-healing polymers have been around for years, but they have always been limited to a single healing process because of their design. Now, this new type of self-healing polymers can have virtually unlimited healing cycles, because of a new technology that involves metals within the polymer chains. The polymer chains are bound to metal plates in micro layers. When the plastic is scratched then exposed to UV light, the metal layers get hot and melt the polymers in that location.

Scotland, United Kingdom – Pluto’s atmosphere seems to be rapidly changing, which has puzzled astronomers who have been studying it for some time. Astronomers at the University St. Andrews in Scotland have been watching Pluto in it’s orbit for years and new telescope readings seem to indicate that the atmosphere has expanded to roughly 20 times its previous height. The astronomers have been unable to understand what caused this expansion. The atmosphere should have shrunk instead, because the dwarf planet is currently moving away from the Sun.

Daohugou, China – What is most likely the ancestor of modern spiders has been discovered in northeastern China. The ancient arachnid, a member of the Nephila group of spiders, is related to modern orb-weavers and was much larger than modern spiders, with a leg span of roughly 15 centimeters. Known as Jurrasica Nephila, the spider likely spun large permanent webs that enabled it to catch large insects and small birds.

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