Scientific discoveries this week: 2/24/14

New Bionic Hand Gives Amputee a Sense of Touch, Switzerland
Dennis Aabo Sørensen from Denmark is the world’s first amputee to get an artificial hand that can feel objects. This artificial hand was connected to Dennis’s nervous system and allowed him to grip, manipulate, and feel objects. This new prosthesis adds a sense of touch compared to other prosthesis. “The sensory feedback was incredible. I could feel things that I hadn’t been able to feel in over nine years,” said Sørensen. More development in the field of bionics is still necessary, but one day people could maybe control prosthetics with their brains.

Oldest Known Star in the Universe Discovered, Australia
Astronomers from the Australian National University discovered the oldest known star about 6,000 light-years from Earth. They believe the ancient star formed around 13.7 billion years ago, shortly after the Big Bang. “It’s giving us insight into our fundamental place in the universe. What we’re seeing is the origin of where all the material around us that we need to survive came from,” said lead researcher Dr. Stefan Keller. The star is said to open a new window to the origin of the Universe.

Gene Linking Brain Structure to Intelligence, London
Researchers have found a gene linking intelligence to the cerebral cortex, which is the outermost layer in the brain. The prefrontal lobe, the part of brain right behind the forehead, was earlier thought to be associated with intelligence. They say their discovery could help scientists understand how and why some people have learning difficulties. Sylvane Desrivieres, the leader of the study, said that the genetic variation identified is linked to synaptic plasticity, which is how neurons communicate. This gene is not a gene for intelligence but may help researchers understand the mechanism associated with brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Urban Bee Uses Plastic Wastes to Build Nests, Canada
Canadian bee researchers discovered some of the first evidence that insects are adapting to a plastic world. Two solitary bee species have been using plastic in place of natural nest building materials. The bees were observed using pieces of polyethylene-based plastic bags to construct its nests, which are where larvae are raised. Surprisingly, the larvae developed normally and free of parasites. Researchers said the “teeth” marks on the plastic bags indicate that the bees chewed it differently than it would the leaves that are typically used for nest-building. This demonstrates that the bees are using the plastic intentionally for its nests. “The novel use of plastics in the nests of bees could reflect the ecologically adaptive traits necessary for survival in an increasingly human-dominated environment,” said lead study author, Scott MacIvor.

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