As always, science has giving us plenty of awesomeness in the last week. Here are a few of the biggest stories rounded up for your reading pleasure.
Glowing Cats Shed Light on AIDS
It’s hard to decide whether a kitten amped up on fluorescent jellyfish protein is cute or freaky, but before you try to kill it with fire (or lose an hour of life imagining what a jellyfish-cat chimera might look like), consider the reason these kittehs are bioluminescent:
“We did it to mark cells easily just by looking under the microscope or shining a light on the animal,” said Dr Eric Poeschla, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, US.
The jellyfish protein was introduced to feline oocytes at the same time as a rhesus monkey gene that helps them resist the feline form of AIDS (feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV). Cats born luminescent have cells which are resistant to FIV in tests. Tests haven’t been carried out to actually expose the kittens to FIV to test their resistance, but the findings from this study could help develop immunizations for HIV in people. Read all about it on BBC News.
Stem Cell Zoos Could Be a ‘Last-Ditch Effort’ to Saving Endangered Species
With only seven living northern white rhinos on the planet, it’s clear that the species’ extinction is imminent. But the Frozen Zoo–a collection of skin cells from over 800 species–could provide the resources for bringing animals like the northern white rhino back from the brink.
Recently, Dr. Jeanne Loring successfully generated stem cells from those frozen skin cells–cells which can create egg and sperm cells or for use in therapies for diseased animals.
Employing the induced pluropotency technique on skin cells means that there’s plenty of material to work with (it only takes a small sample of skin tissue to yield thousands of cells), and having multiple biopsies to work from ensures the genetic diversity of any future offspring necessary to maintain a healthy population. But it may be too late:
This should be a “last-ditch effort,” says conservation scientist Robert Lacy, as quoted by BBC News. There are still “simpler, cheaper, and more effective ways” to rescue endangered species.
One of 50 Newly Discovered Planets Is a Potentially Habitable Super-Earth
And it could potentially support life, according to astronomers at HARPS, the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher instrument. The HARPS spectrograph is part of ESO’s 11.8-foot (3.6-meter) telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. This week, the team announced 50 new exoplanets, sixteen of which are ‘super-Earths’–rocky planets with a mass less than Neptune but more than Earth.
The rockstar here, HD 85512 b, orbits within its star’s habitable zone–the area of a starsystem in which water can exist in liquid form. (Too far and it’s ice, too close and it’s gas, even closer and there’s no atmosphere to contain it, even as vapor.)