SciTech Briefs

Town in Indiana experiences growth in HIV outbreak

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a severe increase in the rate of outbreak of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections within a rural county in Indiana.

The increased rates have been occuring since mid-December. In March, the outbreak was declared a public emergency within that county. As of Friday, 142 people were shown to test positive for HIV, a significant amount for an area with a population of a few thousand people. The CDC and state health officials believe that IV drug use, which is common in the rural area, is the culprit behind the outbreak. Drug users often share needles, which increases the risk of spreading new HIV infections.

In order to combat the problem, the Indiana governor has signed a mandate to make sterile needle syringes more available to the public. In addition, health volunteers from Indiana University are being deployed to test and treat HIV cases, as well as to educate the public about the danger of sharing needles.

Source: CNN

Scientists debate ethics of genetically modifying embryos

For the first time, human embryos have been genetically modified by a team of Chinese scientists. In order to alleviate ethical concerns, the researchers worked with nonviable embryos, which are incapable of producing live births. The embryos were obtained from nearby fertility clinics.

Using a gene editing method, the CRISP/Cas9 system, the team altered the gene associated with β-thalassaemia, a fatal blood disorder. During experimentation, only a fraction of the genetically tested embryos were successfully modified. Furthermore, the researchers found that there were many “off target” mutations that are believe to be caused by the gene editing technique acting upon other parts of the embryo genome. In turn, these results have brought up doubts about the safety of germ line manipulation, which could affect the welfare of future generations if it becomes a more prominent practice.

Currently, germ line manipulation has not been approved in the U.S., among other countries.

Source: ScienceDaily

Large cosmic tsunami revives comatose galaxies

An international team of astronomers has discovered that dormant galaxies, which have ceased to form stars in the distant past, are, at times, capable of revival. In a recent publication of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the scientists reported their observations of the merging galaxy cluster J2242.8+5301.

Nicknamed the “Sausage,” the merging galaxy cluster is 2.3 billion light years away in the direction of a constellation situated in the northern hemisphere of the sky. Watching from various large telescopes in La Palma and Hawaii, the scientists were able to observe the creation of a shock wave from the merging galaxies. The scientists then discovered that the shock wave formed dense, cold gas clouds that triggered the birth of new stars. However, once those galaxies run out of fuel, the cluster mergers will eventually make the galaxies dormant again, with an even lower chance of a second resurrection.

In the future, the scientists hope to study a larger sample of galaxies in order to further understand how stars are formed.

Source: ScienceDaily

Pocket shark seen for the second time in the Gulf of Mexico

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had recently identified a rare, juvenile male pocket shark. The small shark, although only recently identified, was found dead in an assortment of catch obtained from the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The Gulf shark is 14 centimeters in length and 14.6 grams in weight. The scientists also compared the Gulf shark to the only other specimen of pocket shark that was reported to be found, Mollisquama parini.

Results from the genetic analysis of tissue sample allow scientists to categorize the pocket shark as belonging to the Mollisquama genus. However, the scientists found a cluster of light-emitting organs on the belly of the Gulf shark, a physical feature that was not seen in the Mollisquama parini. Such differences have made the scientists uncertain about the species of the Gulf shark.

The shark is now part of the Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection at Tulane University’s Biodiveristy Research Institute in Louisiana.

Source: Live Science

Electromaterials scientists create a 4-D printer

At the University of Wollongong, Australian scientists have engineered a 4-D printer. The 4-D printer is a machine that allows for 3-D printed materials to morph into new structures in response to external stimuli, such as pressure or heat.

During one continuous process, the printers build objects using layers of filaments that are sensitive to heat and pressure. The filaments can also have the ability to move over time. These printers are able to print the customary plastic, but they can also work with substances such as sugar or cellular material. The 4-D printer was designed for ease of use. The printer outputs devices that can be immediately picked up and require no assembly.

The Australian scientists believe that the printers will lead to a new age of “soft” robotics, a field that aims to develop robots that mimic the movements found in biological systems.
It is thought that these 4-D printers will also have an impact on other fields such as medicine, construction, and automation.

Source: TechCrunch

Near-death experiences caused by lack of oxygen

Recently, researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School have studied the phenomenon of near-death experiences (NDEs), which have lead to claims of out-of-body or spiritual experiences. Scientists believe NDEs to be a result of anoxia, or a lack of oxygen delivery to the brain. This research supports previous work on this topic published in 2013.

In the study, researchers looked at the effects of inducing anoxia on the brain and heart activity within rats. Results showed that anoxia triggered greater brain activity during the dying process than in the waking state, creating visions that are similar to those experienced by survivors of cardiac arrest.

In addition, a release of neurotransmitter chemicals is thought to be the cause of the hallucinations that have been reported from near-death experiences. The findings of the study were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Discovery News