A universal vaccine for influenza, is that even possible?

Wednesday, 2 September, 2015

It was once said that a vaccine could never be developed for influenza, or the flu, as the virus was capable of constantly mutating, quickly rendering any serum ineffective. Is it possible then that a universal flu vaccine, one capable of combating any and all strains of the virus, has been developed?

To solve this problem, two teams of researchers independently focused on a protein called hemagglutinin, found on the surface of the flu virus H1N1. It has two major components: the head – the portion of the virus that mutates and changes from strain to strain – and the stem, which is similar across most flu strains. The teams tried to remove the variable head region and keep the stem as the base of their vaccines. But hemagglutinin turns out to be rather feeble. Once beheaded, the stem falls apart, and antibodies can no longer bind to it.

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If extraterrestrials talk to us, how will we understand them?

Monday, 31 August, 2015

There are still some ancient languages on Earth that linguists are still struggling to understand, so how would we fare if an alien intelligence tried to contact us? How might we ever make sense of what they were saying?

Yet, any carefully thought-out message sent to us may be composed in a way that we might be able to comprehend, without too much difficulty:

“If an advanced civilization did want to communicate with us, they would probably choose to base their communication on something we have in common, such as the fact that we live in the same physical universe,” says Siemion. “They might use the properties of astrophysical objects, like pulsars, quasars or the shape of our galaxy, as a first step at teaching us their language.”

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Could we send a camera into a black hole? Well yes, but…

Wednesday, 12 August, 2015

There’s still a lot that we don’t know about black holes. To rectify this matter, might it help if a camera was sent into one of these objects? Maybe the photos would help fill a few gaps in our knowledge?

Doing so is probably a good idea, the only problem is the images would never make it back to us. Remember, nothing can escape from a black hole, not even light, to say nothing of photos. So much for that then.

According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, there is no problem sending a camera (or anything else) into a black hole (meaning that it goes in past the horizon). Getting it (or its photographs) back out is an entirely different issue. This is not possible.

This calls for some Amy Winehouse… Back to Black therefore seems appropriate. See if you can spot the lyric line here that didn’t escape the censorship black hole…

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Going back to where is all began, evolution in reverse

Wednesday, 12 August, 2015

A look at human evolution by looking at it in reverse, and then back again, by way of this animation by Jurian Möller, made up of illustrations from EVO, a picture book on the subject.

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Sending text messages is one thing, transmitting them another

Friday, 7 August, 2015

Text messages, just type and send, and they reach the recipient almost instantly. It’s that simple, thanks to the science behind the technology, that, needless to say, isn’t quite as straightforward. It’s fascinating though, and it all comes down to a beam of light. In a way, that is.

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If something tastes like fat, should I actually be eating it?

Wednesday, 5 August, 2015

Up until now the food we eat has fallen into one of five basic taste categories… sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami. Umami, being a “pleasant savory taste”, had been the last addition, since its identification last century. Now there may be a sixth basic taste, fat. Yes, fat:

“Fat is likely another one of the basic tastes. I think we have pretty clear evidence for this,” said Richard Mattes, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, and the lead author of the study. If people learn to manipulate the taste of fat correctly, he says, it will allow us to make tons of food taste better by either reproducing the taste of fat or introducing substitutes that successfully mimic it.

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If we destroy the Moon, we destroy ourselves

Friday, 31 July, 2015

The Moon is not always a friend of terrestrial astronomers. The light it casts, especially during its full phase, deprives the night sky of the darkness needed to observe other celestial bodies. This must be frustrating. Along with those clouds that sometimes completely block our views of the heavens. And don’t get anyone started on the Sun.

So, could the Moon be taken out of the picture. Removed. Deleted. Destroyed? Well, it is possible, if we had access to enough energy, but things wouldn’t really end all that well for us on Earth, with the Moon gone…

Astronomers use the Roche Limit to calculate how close an object – like a moon – can orbit another object – like a planet. This is the point where the difference between the tidal forces on the “front” and “backside” are large enough that the object is torn apart, and if this sounds familiar you might want to look up “spaghettification.” This is all based on the radius of the planet and the density of the planet and moon. If the moon got close enough to the Earth, around 18,000 km, it would pull apart and be shredded into a beautiful ring. And then the objects in the ring would enter the Earth’s atmosphere and rain down beautiful destruction for thousands of years.

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Worried about radiation? Relax, you’re already immersed in it

Wednesday, 22 July, 2015

A longer read about radiation, something many of us fear, yet constantly surrounds us, albeit in minute, or background form.

First, there is cosmic radiation from the Sun and the rest of the stars in our galaxy and beyond. How much we get depends on the altitude at which we live and on fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field. And then there’s radiation from the Earth itself, including radon. Here, too, geography is a factor: in some places radon can be found leaking into the atmosphere in significantly larger amounts. Naturally radioactive solids such as uranium and thorium in rock and soil also make their contribution. The global average annual radiation dose is 2.4 mSv. To put this in perspective, that’s about the same as 120 chest X-rays.

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We are all made of trillions of tiny electrochemical machines

Thursday, 16 July, 2015

In short, another way to look at ourselves, courtesy of New Jersey based biological oceanographer Paul Falkowski:

We are used to thinking of ourselves as composed of billions of cells, but Falkowski points out that we also consist of trillions of electrochemical machines that somehow coordinate their intricate activities in ways that allow our bodies and minds to function with the required reliability and precision. As we contemplate the evolution and maintenance of this complexity, wonder grows to near incredulity.

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Could tears be as unique as snowflakes? It looks like it…

Tuesday, 14 July, 2015

Image by Maurice Mikkers

Our tears may be as unique as snowflakes, if this series of photos of them – aptly named Imaginarium of Tears – in crystallised form, as taken by Dutch photographer Maurice Mikkers, is anything to go by.

Via Lost At E Minor.

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