Scientific Discoveries this Week – 10/20/14

Japan- Dr. Misao Fukuda of the M&K Health Institute in Japan found evidence to support the possibility that human sex ratios may be influenced by temperature, although in a more subtle way, through a different mechanism. Research shows that in 1968, 1.07 boys were born in Japan for every girl. By 2012, that was down to 1.05. “Male conception seems to be especially vulnerable to external stress factors, including climate changes,” Fukuda concludes. Furthermore, Fukuda investigated the data for fetal deaths in the ratio of male to female, which were 2 male per female. Nonetheless, changes to sex ratios for humans are so small that, there is no threat to our survival. But, “an increase in miscarriages for all fetuses may be one more effect of rapidly changing climates,” Fukuda says.

Tel Aviv, Israel- For the first time ever, researchers at Tel Aviv University have found out how the rabies virus moves through nerve cells before ending up in the central nervous system. The fatal attacks of the rabies virus, a vaccine-preventable disease, begin at the central nervous system. Therefore, researchers used live cell imaging to track the virus as it made its way through the axon after entering the cell at nerve tips. They discovered that the virus gained cell entry by sticking to a receptor known as p75. This receptor is responsible for assisting the transport of a family of molecules known as neurotrophins, proteins produced by cells of the nervous system that promote the survival, differentiation and growth of neurons, and can efficiently reach the cell body. Finally, the researchers say “it might be possible to use this machinery to introduce drugs or even genes into the nervous system.”

Cambridge, Massachusetts- A team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have announced a cheap, liquid-metal battery that is suitable for energy storage for renewable sources. The battery is made of molten electrolyte and liquid-metal electrodes that combine for a high-performance metal called antimony with low-cost lead. These findings, published in Nature, might allow intermittent renewable energy sources to compete with conventional power plants. MIT’s lead researcher, Donald Sadoway, and his team have developed the battery with lead—which is not only cheaper, but also has a lower melting temperature. The new formulation allows the battery to work at 450 to 500 degrees Celsius. Sadoway says “a large-scale, molten-metal unit might cost around $500 per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced.”

United Kingdom- The Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine has been awarded to three scientists who discovered the brain’s “GPS system”. They discovered how the brain knows where we are and is able to navigate from one place to another. These findings may help explain why Alzheimer’s disease patients cannot recognize their surroundings. Professor O’Keefe from University College London discovered that “place cells” in the hippocampus formed a map within the brain. Dr. May Moser and Dr. Edvard Moser, both professors at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, discovered a different part of the brain that acts like a nautical chart and are “grid cells” that contain lines of longitude and latitude, helping the brain to judge distance and navigate.

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