Scientific discoveries this week: 9-12-11

Singapore, Malaysia – Cancer cells may have met their match, according to a new study by a cancer biologist at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Singapore, Malaysia. It has long been assumed that cancer cells have walls that are too strong for antibodies (what destroys the cells) to penetrate. This new study indicates that some types of antibodies may, in fact, be small enough to pass through and kill the cancer cells from the inside. Cancer cells operate by producing protein cells, which essentially build up and create what we call a tumor. The most common cancer drugs target the part of the tumor that creates the protein. Until now, the drugs have only been able to kill the cells on the surface of the tumor. Now, it seems, drugs may be able to kill tumors from the inside.

Atlanta, Georgia – Astronomers have discovered what looks like the first pre-main-sequence star within observational range. More simply known as “young” stars, pre-main-sequence stars are so named because they are glowing because of gravitational pressure, not nuclear reactions. Stars are formed when a gas cloud collapses on itself from the gravitational pressure, and starts to get hot. When it hits the pressure tipping point and starts the nuclear fusion reaction, it enters what astronomers call its “main sequence.” These stars are important for understanding more about how our star behaved when it was young. That knowledge would help a great deal in understanding the beginnings of our own planet.

Lausanne, Switzerland – Disabled and bed-bound individuals may now be able to interact with their families and loved ones more easily, due to a major technological breakthrough by José del R. Millán, a biomedical engineer at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. The system Millan developed allows users to control a partially-autonomous robot using only their mind tools. There have been systems developed in the past that have allowed people to control a robot or machine of some kind using only their minds, but they have always required a great deal of concentration. Using a partially-autonomous robot allows users to only input specific commands, leaving the robot to perform various easy tasks without instruction.

Melbourne, Australia – Green tree frogs apparently use thermodynamics to get their fill of water on cool nights. In a recent study by researchers at the University of Melbourne, green tree frogs were observed leaving their warm dens and sitting perched on a log out in the cool night air. Noticing this, the researchers postulated that the frogs were using thermodynamic principals to drink water. Because frogs absorb water through their skin as opposed to drinking it, they must find ways to coat their bodies with water. By cooling off in the night air and then jumping back into their warm bunks, they are making use of the water content of the air inside their moist dwellings. Water condenses on their cold bodies, forming water droplets, which they absorb for their nightly fill.

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