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5 Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Scientists created an artificial organ that pumps out customized cancer-fighting cells on demand, found a way to make a fluid with negative mass, and harvested water out of dry air. Luke Skywalker would be proud.

 

Water Out Of Thin Air

Top image: MIT engineers used a MOF synthesized by Omar Yaghi to construct a water harvester that sucks moisture from dry air and condenses it for drinking. Video by Roxanne Makasdjian and Stephen McNally, UC Berkeley. Harvester photos courtesy of MIT.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used a material developed by a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley to build a “solar-powered harvester,” a machine that can pull water out of air. The team wrote in the journal Science, which published the results, that one kilogram of the special material, called metal-organic framework (MOF), allows the device to harvest 2.8 liters of water per day from air with relative humidity as low as 20 percent with no additional energy input. “One vision for the future is to have water off-grid, where you have a device at home running on ambient solar for delivering water that satisfies the needs of a household,” said Berkeley’s Omar Yaghi, one of the paper’s two senior authors. “To me, that will be made possible because of this experiment. I call it personalized water.” MOF materials combine “metals like magnesium or aluminum with organic molecules in a tinker-toy arrangement to create rigid, porous structures ideal for storing gases and liquids,” according to Berkeley. The MOF inside the MIT device is a mix of zirconium metal and adipic acid, which binds water vapor.

 

Get Your Body With The Program

Bio-computers enable “execution of sophisticated cellular computation in mammalian cells, with applications in cell and tissue engineering.” Image credit: Getty Images.

Wilson Wong, a synthetic biologist at Boston University, and his team have turned genetically engineered mammalian cells into bio-computers. The approach, which was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, allowed them to build 113 different genetic circuits to perform logical operations. Of those circuits, 109 worked “as intended,” without any further tweaks. The team calls the method “Boolean logic and arithmetic through DNA excision” (BLADE). It “enables execution of sophisticated cellular computation in mammalian cells, with applications in cell and tissue engineering,” they reported. The journal Science wrote that the “group hasn’t put those modified cells to work in useful ways yet, but down the road researchers hope the new programming techniques will help improve everything from cancer therapy to on-demand tissues that can replace worn-out body parts.”

 

Artificial Organ Makes Cancer-Fighting Cells On Demand

T cells (red) that were produced using artificial thymic organoids developed by UCLA scientists. Image credit: UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center/Nature Methods.

Bioengineers at the University of California, Los Angeles have created artificial “organoids” that can generate immune response cells from blood stem cells on demand. The organoids simulate the function of the thymus, an organ connected to the body’s lymphatic system that plays a key role in maturing T cells, which are white blood cells that fight infection. The team was able to instruct the artificial thymus to produce “cancer-specific” T cells. “The system could be utilized to engineer T cells to find and attack cancer cells, which means it could be an important step toward generating a readily available supply of T cells for treating many different types of cancer,” according to UCLA. The results also suggest that “the cells could potentially be used to fight cancer without the risk of T cells attacking healthy tissue.” The results were published in the journal Nature Methods.

 

The Ultimate Bouncy Ball

“Push it, and unlike every physical object in the world we know, it doesn’t accelerate in the direction it was pushed. It accelerates backwards.” Illustration credit: Getty Images.

Physicists at Washington State University have created a fluid with negative mass. “Push it, and unlike every physical object in the world we know, it doesn’t accelerate in the direction it was pushed. It accelerates backwards,” according WSU. The results, which were published in the journal Physical Review Letters, give scientists a new way to probe neutron stars, black holes, dark energy and the universe’s other enigmas “where experiments are impossible.”

 

Drone Fighter Jet Aces Test

An F-16 jet (with a pilot at the controls) with a P-51 Mustang at the Oshkosh airshow. Image credit: Rob Butler.

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works development arm, the U.S Air Force and Calspan Corp. tested an experimental, unmanned F-16 fighter jet. The team reported the aircraft “can perform its mission when things go as planned” and also “react and adapt to unforeseen obstacles along the way.” Lockheed said that an experimental F-16 acting as a surrogate Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) “autonomously react[ed] to a dynamic threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission.” Lockheed wrote: “The experimental F-16 autonomously flew in formation with a lead aircraft and conducted a ground-attack mission, then automatically rejoined the lead aircraft after the mission was completed. These capabilities were linked with Lockheed Martin automatic collision avoidance systems to ensure safe, coordinated teaming between the F-16 and surrogate UCAV.”

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