Skip to main content

5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Tomas Kellner
February 03, 2017
Scientists stared in the face of our 535-year-old ancestor, started a conversation between live and artificial cells and developed nanorobots powered by gastric acid that can deliver medicine to your stomach. We have more to chew on. Please, continue.


What Your Ancestors Looked Like 535 Million Years Ago

2017-01-image-for-blog-800x411Top and above: An image of the Saccorhytus fossil (left) next to a drawing of the organism. Images credit: Jian Han/Northwest University, China

Paleontologists at China’s Northwest University in Xian have discovered the earliest ancestor for a large group of vertebrates that includes humans. The 535-million-year-old creature called Saccorhytus looks a little like a barnacle-covered cross between a puffer fish and an alien. “Humans are vertebrates and so are one of the major groups that collectively define the deuterostomes, a group that also includes animals that are quite different from humans, such as sea-urchins and sea-squirts, all ultimately descended from an original deuterostome,” Simon Conway Morris, one of the scientists who discovered the millimeter-long animal told Research Gate. “Our argument is that Saccorhytus is close to this ancestral form, and so is the most primitive known deuterostome.”


Did These Artificial Cells Just Pass The Turing Test?

e. coli bacteriaE. coli bacteria started listening to their artificial kin when they were placed next to them. Image credit: Getty Images

Researchers working at the University of Trento in Italy and the University of Maryland have developed artificial cells so lifelike they pulled real cells into a conversation with them. The scientist say artificial cells are “encapsulated chemical systems that mimic cellular life.” “It should be possible to build genetically encoded artificial cells that can chemically communicate with bacteria,” the team wrote in the journal ACS Central Science. “Since chemical communication leads to measurable changes in gene expression, next generation sequencing technologies can be used to quantifiably evaluate the extent of mimicry in a manner that is neither subjective nor binary. In other words, the cellular Turing test allows for the quantification of how lifelike the artificial cells are in comparison to a target living cell in a stratified manner.”


Scientists Make Graphene From Soybeans

Ripe soya bean seed in hands of farmerScientists in Australia made graphene out of soy beans. Image credit: Getty images

Scientists working at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have made graphene — one of the most promising new materials that can be many times stronger than steel, among many other attributes — out of soybean oil. Existing ways of producing graphene are “expensive, hazardous and [require] extensive vacuum processing,” the team wrote in the journal Nature Communications. But they reported that graphene made with their “unique ambient-air process exhibits good and tuneable film properties, which are comparable to those of graphene synthesized with conventional methods.”


Tiny Stomach Subs Use Gastric Acid As Fuel, Deliver Drugs

Artificial robotic internal organ - metal stomach with sensorNew nanorobots use gastric acid as a source of energy, neutralize it as they go and deliver a payload of medicine in the stomach. Illustration credit: Getty Images

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego have developed nanorobots that use gastric acid as a source of energy, neutralize it as they go and deliver a payload of medicine in the stomach at the desired pH. According to Angewandte Chemie, the journal that published the results, these “tiny ‘submarines’” could help doctors administer acid-sensitive drugs, including some biopharmaceuticals and antibiotics. The submarines look like “20-micrometer-sized magnesium spheres coated with a nanolayer of gold, followed by a pH sensitive polymer” that can carry the drug payload, according the journal. The robots are “biocompatible and safe to use in the stomach. Stomach function is not affected and the normal pH value is re-established within 24 hours.”


New Molecule Disarms Drug-Resistant Bugs

Geller32067958966_8fcd08837d_b“We’re targeting a resistance mechanism that’s shared by a whole bunch of pathogens,” said Oregon State University microbiologists Bruce Geller, who’s been researching molecular medicine for more than a decade. Image credit: Oregon State University

Researchers at Oregon State University have developed a molecule that can neutralize the machinery that enables drug-resistant bacteria to fight antibiotics. Specifically, it attacks an enzyme called NDM-1, which is “accompanied by additional genes that encode resistance to most if not all antibiotics,” the university said in a news release. Writing in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, the team reported that the molecule “can restore antibiotic susceptibility [of pathogens] in vitro and in vivo.”