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10 Recent Scientific Breakthroughs and Discoveries that Should get More Attention

6.  For the first time in the world, a team of engineers from Columbia Engineering has developed a flexible lithium battery for wearable electronics. This has huge potential because of the constant rise of wearable devices. This would even make the design process for the devices more flexible.

Flexible lithium battery
Flexible lithium battery for wearable electronics designed based on the bending ability of the human spinal cord. Image Credit: Yuan Yang/Columbia Engineering via Science Daily

Smart, wearable devices are getting smaller and thinner every day. Because of that, batteries are requiring a change in their design too, but researchers have faced constraints in terms of both good flexibility and high-energy density in lithium-ion batteries until now.

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A team of materials science and engineering researchers led by Yuan Yang, an assistant professor at Columbia Engineering, have come up with a flexible lithium-ion battery. The battery is shaped like the human spine which enables good flexibility along with high energy density and stable voltage even if it is twisted or flexed.

The team was inspired by the bending ability of the human spine while performing sit-ups. Our spine is highly flexible along with being mechanically robust because of the presence of soft marrow components that connect the vertebra parts. The team designed the battery with a similar structure.

The prototype they have designed is thick in structure with a rigid segment where energy is stored. The energy storage area is designed by wrapping the electrodes around a flexible component, just like the vertebra of the spine is wound around the marrow. The flexible component of the battery connects the electrodes together.

Such a battery would open the doors for a plethora of new and sleek designs for the wearable devices. (source)

7. Researchers have come up with a newly developed house plant that has the potential to remove air pollutants from the home along with carcinogens such as benzene and chloroform.  

Genetically modified house plant
The team behind the genetically modified house plant that removes pollutants from indoor air. From left to right: Ryan Routsong, Long Zhang, Stuart Strand. Image Credit: University of Washington

Urban homes are devoid of fresh and healthy air. In the cities, the indoor air is contaminated with alarming levels of organic carcinogens such as benzene, chloroform, and formaldehyde. Researchers have been working on the development of technologies that could enable the filtration of indoor air in an urban landscape. Recently, there has been a wonderful development in this area.

Pothos ivy
The team modified a common houseplant, pothos ivy, to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. Image Credit: University of Washington

University of Washington researchers have successfully modified a houseplant genetically and have given the plant the ability to remove pollutants from indoor air. These modified plants contain a protein known as “cytochrome P450 2E1 or 2E1” that transforms the captured pollutant compounds into molecules that the plants can re-use to support their own growth!

The genetically modified plants convert the harmful air pollutants into carbon dioxide, phenol, and chloride ions that are used for their own growth and well-being. (1, 2)

8. Lab-grown meat will soon make its way to people’s dinner tables. WIth millions in funding, numerous start-ups are coming up with technologies to grow meat in labs in order to eliminate the harm caused to animals. This would also lead to a considerable decline in environmental costs as resources would only be required to grow and nurture cultured cells and not an entire organism. 

Lab-grown meat
Meals created by Mosa Meat and Memphis Meats from lab-grown meat. Image Credit: Mosa Meat, Memphis Meats

Start-ups such as Mosa Meat, SuperMeat, Memphis Meats, and Finless Foods have been doing a lot of work in creating lab-grown meat. They are also attracting millions in funding. Memphis Meats received a funding of $17 million from Bill Gates and Cargill, the agricultural company.

This meat is produced by first taking a sample from a real animal. Stem cells are collected from the sample tissues which are then multiplied and allowed to differentiate into primitive fibers. These fibers are then bulked-up to form muscle tissue. According to the start-up, Mosa Meats, one tissue sample from a cow has the potential to yield enough muscle for 80,000 quarter-pounders.

These companies are still working on improving the taste and decreasing the cost for the production of these lab-grown meats. They are hopeful that the meat can be made commercially available in the next few years. This would be a blessing as thousands of animals could be saved from landing on people’s plates. (source)

9. Scientists have long searched for a technique that effectively converts types AB, A, and B blood into type O. Now, thanks to a gut bacteria, researchers from the University of British Columbia reported that a newly-discovered enzyme from the human gut can convert types A and B blood into type O blood with 30 times more efficiency than previously studied enzymes.

In January of 2018, after raging storms hit the US East Coast, there was an urgent call for O-type blood that can be administered universally. The blood supply was running low. If only there existed a procedure that could convert AB-, A-, and B-type blood to O by removing the antigens A and B from red blood cells. Now, scientists have discovered bacteria in the human gut that has this exact potential.

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Earlier, scientists were experimenting with DNA from mosquitoes and leeches. These animals have the ability to degrade blood. But, they finally found the answer in mucins, a type of glycosylated proteins found in the human gut. These protein are responsible for sugars that work as attachment points for the bacteria present in the gut. Mucins also help these bacteria to feed while they are assisting in digestion.  The structure of these mucin sugars is quite similar to the structure of the antigens on A- and B-type blood.

The scientists were able to extract the enzymes that the gut bacteria use to pick off the sugars from mucins. On the way, the scientists stumbled upon a new type of enzyme family that turned out to be 30 times more efficient in converting blood types to O-type as compared to the previously reported enzymes. (source)

10. Recently, the FDA recognized the Tumor Monorail as a “breakthrough device.” This device, commonly described as the “pied piper,” has the ability to trick and lure cells away from a brain tumor just like the Pied Piper lured away rats and children from Hamelin!

Rightly named, the Tumor Monorail device revolutionized the world of medicine. The device is a long, thin tube that has a small reservoir at one end. The reservoir part sits under the scalp at the top of the skull. The device then tricks the tumor cells into coming up the tube which ultimately removes them from the brain. Once the cells are in the tube, surgeons remove them entirely.

The device works by mimicking the white matter of the brain, the best place for the growth of the tumor cells. The tumor cells mistake the tube to be the white matter and travel towards it. This is a very ingenious way to treat a brain tumor!

So far, the device has had successful results when tested on rats. The FDA recognition would mean that the team can now move towards a clinical trial after it established that it is safe for humans. They are aiming to gain FDA approval for clinical trials by the end of 2019.

There are numerous brain tumors that are deemed untreatable by medical experts as venturing inside the brain is no easy task. But with this device, there is a hope that doctors will be able to tackle such tumors with a minimal-risk approach. (1, 2)

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