April 28, 2014

Ooho in action.     Photo: Rodrigo García González

Can an Edible Water Bottle Save the Planet?

London research team unveils new creation

Scientists in London have unveiled a potentially game-changing invention in the form of a new edible water bottle. Led by Rodrigo García González (the inventor of the Hop! robo-suitcase), the team from Imperial College London believe they have found an alternative, known as Ooho, to the nearly 50 billion plastic bottles Americans use each year. 

The process actually begins with the contents of the "bottle," frozen in a sphere. That sphere is then dipped in dipped in a calcium chloride solution, which forms a gelatinous membrane around the frozen fluid not unlike the skin of an orange. The "bottle" is then dipped in a solution of brown algae extract to reinforce the structure. "The main point in manipulating the water as solid ice during the encapsulation is to make it possible to get bigger spheres and allow the calcium and algae to stay exclusively in the membrane," González told Smithsonian Magazine

The result, when all the frozen contents have melted, resembles a jellyfish or clear dumpling. The technique, known as spherification, has a strange history. Originally developed by Unilever as a drug-delivery system in the 1950s, it was transformed into a culinary craze by pioneering Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. Today, it's used to create everything from fake caviar to the little juice balls in bubble tea. You can even spherify alcohol if you're so inclined. 

González and his team admit there are still a few kinks to work out, like the fact that the container can't be closed once the membrane is pierced. Testers weren't crazy about eating the jelly membrane, either. "The jelly texture around [the bottles] is something we are not used to yet. Not all of the reactions were positive," he says. "Some people say that [the bottles] are like breast implants."

See for yourself. Would you carry around a few of Oohos if it meant a drastic reduction in the number of plastic bottles polluting our environment? 

0 Comments

Devastating tornados in central and southern U.S.     Photo: fergregory/Getty Images

Fatal Tornados Tear Through Central, Southern U.S.

Death count at 17 Monday morning

Tornados ravaged parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma on Sunday, devastating neighborhoods and claiming the lives of at least 17 people. The loss of life represents the first fatalities in the year's U.S. tornado season.

The death toll was highest in Arkansas, with 10 lives lost in Faulkner County, five in Pulaski County, and one in White County.

One person was also killed in the town of Quapaw, in northeastern Oklahoma.

One twister was nearly half a mile wide and slammed into the town of Vilonia, Arkansas, located just 10 miles west of the state capitol.

According to a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Energy, rescue crews are still sifting through the rubble and making sure there are no missing persons still to be recovered.

President Obama, who is currently in the Philippines, has pledged the support of the U.S. government to aid recovery. "Your country will be there to help you recover and rebuild as long as it takes," he said. 

The National Weather Service is warning that more severe weather might threaten areas in the southeastern United States on Monday, particularly in the Mississippi and Tennessee valleys.

0 Comments

It remains unclear whether the dolphins were trying to protect the swimmer or just wanted to join in the fun.     Photo: Getty Images/Purestock

Man Saved by Dolphins While Saving Dolphins

Pod protected swimmer from great white shark

Call it a lucky break or just good karma: A pod of dolphins came to the aid of Adam Walker as he completed a fundraising swim to benefit the nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation

The British long-distance swimmer was in the midst of a 16-mile journey across New Zealand's Cook Strait when he noticed a great white shark trailing beneath him. That's when a group of 10 dolphins swept in and accompanied Walker until the shark swam off, about an hour later.

The pod might have been executing a rescue attempt or just having some fun with a fellow swimmer. Deliberate or not, this isn't the first time dolphins have protected a human from danger in the water, preventing shark attacks and drownings or aiding broken-down boats.

Upon safely completing the swim in less than nine hours, Walker posted enthusiastically on Facebook, "I'd like to think they were protecting me and guiding me home!!!" 

At the very least, the dolphins helped Walker finish the second to last of the Ocean's Seven—a series of the world's hardest long-distance ocean swims that only one other British person has ever completed. His last challenge, the North Channel separating Ireland and Scotland, hopefully will remain shark-free.

0 Comments

A 115-year-old woman's genetic mutations hint at longevity.     Photo: Getty Images

Clues to Everlasting Life

Supercentenarian's genetic mutations hint at longevity

We might never figure out how to cheat death, but scientists are starting to understand what makes supercentenarians—people significantly older than 100—special. A new study published in Genome Research analyzed the blood cells of a healthy 115-year-old woman, who was the world's oldest person when she died in 2005 and is believed to be the oldest person ever to have donated her body to science.

Researchers detected more than 400 genetic somatic mutations in the woman's white blood cells. A little bit of science is required to explain why finding these types of mutations in a supercentenarian is special.

The authors of the study explain that mutations are classified as somatic if they're acquired during an organism's development or later in life, rather than from an external cell. These mutations typically occur in cells that divide frequently, an inherently error-prone process, which means that they can drastically compromise or aid growth.

Because somatic mutations have been linked to how cells divide, scientists often study them to learn more about cancer and other diseases involving unchecked cell division and tissue growth. That's why finding these mutations in a healthy elderly person represents a breakthrough; while some somatic mutations are negative, this woman's blood suggests they might also hold the key to longer life spans.

The scientists also found that the woman's telomeres—the ends of chromosomes that protect them from damage and get shorter each time a cell divides—were extremely short. Although getting to the bottom of this mystery will require further research, the study predicts that supercentenarian death may be tied to "stem cell exhaustion," where telomeres simply get so short that they impede cell division. In turn, this could lead to gene therapy to extend telomere—and human—longevity.

Although the study did not disclose the woman's name, she ranks among the 25 verified oldest people to have lived. But Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at the ripe age of 122, puts the study's specimen to shame.

According to data compiled by the Gerontology Research Group, as of 2013, there were 58 living people 110 years or older in the world, with Japan's 116-year-old Misao Okawa holding the coveted slot of "world's oldest person."

0 Comments

Watering your lawn on prohibited days in Sacramento could result in a fine.     Photo: Getty Images

California's Water Waste Crackdown

Street patrols enforce new conservation policies

Put down your watering hose—especially if you live in Sacramento. At least 45 water agencies throughout California are imposing and enforcing water restrictions due to dangerously low precipitation levels from the winter, the AP reports. Street patrollers are searching for water abusers and, at times, handing out steep fines to repeat offenders.

Even with rain and snow in February and March, California's water supply and snowpack remain low, leaving little H2O for farms and cities during the upcoming dry months. For this reason, residents have been encouraged to conserve wherever they can.

In February, Sacramento deputized 40 employees to report and respond to water waste. Six of them are on water patrol full-time. Neighbors are also encouraged to report water waste. In the first three months of this year, Sacramento received 3,245 water-waste complaints, compared to 183 in the same period last year.

For the most part, officials say, residents are willing to make changes to their overall water usage. 

"No one wants to be the water cops," Lisa Lien-Mager, spokesperson for the Association of California Water Agencies, told the AP. "When they are asked to conserve, Californians will generally respond."

0 Comments

Now we just have to figure out how to get it inside of us.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Human Cartilage Grown on a Chip

Might save your knees and fingers

Scientists released the first living human cartilage sample from "tissue-on-a-chip" research yesterday. According to a report published in ScienceDaily, scientists behind the new bioprint hope to give doctors a chip they can thread into a catheter and print whatever tissue the patient needs, right there in the tube.

Largely in response to the fact that one in every two Americans will develop some form of osteoarthritis, usually in their fingers or knees, during the course of their lifetime, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology just actualized a big push for osteoarthritic research after scientists a few years ago located the gene mutation (MMP13 enzyme) that sparks the destruction of cartilage.

Unlike most approaches to bioprinting, Rocky Tuan, lead scientist for "tissue-on-a-chip," used visible light, whereas other approaches require UV light (which harms stem cells the way it harms the film over your eyes).

Now Tuan and his team are working on improving the efficiency and strength of their bioprint. That means spinning cartilage nanofibers into the extracellular matrices that produce cartilage in our bodies.

0 Comments

Comments