Check out the latest innovations, tech achievements, and trending discoveries you missed this summer in science.
In an age dominated by tumultuous current events, it's easy to forget that we live in a groundbreaking time in history. Humans want to understand the world around us. Though it's our flaws and our fears that make headlines, our curiosity is what defines us- and lately, we have done some pretty cool things. This summer was a time of incredible expansion and discovery in the world of science.
Here are just a few of this summer's most noteworthy innovations, tech achievements, and strange discoveries you missed.
UCLA Biologists "Transfer" a Memory in Snails -- and Discover That All Memory Might Not Be Stored in the Brain
Courtesy of iStockphoto
Neurobiologist David Glanzman made waves this summer with his project studying memory. Glanzman theorized that, contrary to popular science, some kinds of memory aren't stored in our brain cells, but in our RNA. Specifically, he meant the kinds of memories that trigger our Autonomic Nervous System, or make us act defensively (memories involving pain and trauma) which elicit a physiological response when recalled.
To test his hypothesis, Glanzman turned to that enigma of a species, the snail. Being a scientist, of course, he decided he would shock the snail repeatedly to cause it pain and induce trauma. Glanzman, after sadistically terrorizing said snail for the sake of Science™, extracted the traumatized snail's RNA and injected it into the snail's untraumatized friend.
To Glanzman's delight, the snail who had not experienced trauma began to act as if it was traumatized, too, with his gills retracting in the same place as the tortured snail, physiologically eliciting symptoms of remembered pain -- pain it did not have.
This supports Glenzman's hypothesis that traumatic memory is stored in RNA, which is dispersed throughout the body, rather than the brain cells. If Glenzman expands his research, this could redefine the entire way we think about memory.
The First Gene-Silencing Drug Wins FDA Approval
Courtesy of NNHS PTSO
As the debate on the ethical implications of gene editing intensifies, a drug that can stop a hereditary neurological disease by "silencing" genes just won approval on August 10. The drug, Patisiran, acts on RNA to interrupt its translation into DNA proteins, eventually resulting in a rare disease called ATTR (heredity transthyretin amyloidosis), which causes loss of nerve sensation, organ malfunction, and even death.
The Nobel-winning discovery that RNA can intercept DNA transfer into proteins by "silencing" genes is now winning a practical application. And medical experts are impressed.
Craig Mellow, a co-founder of the technology located at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, says they began their eventually groundbreaking gene-silencing research by looking at RNA in roundworms.
“What an amazing process it’s been to uncover the mysteries of these mechanisms that are shared by plants and yeasts and worms,” Dr. Mello said. “To go from the basic biology to a drug in 20 years is kind of amazing.”
We Finally Figured Out Who Is Buried at Stonehenge
Courtesy of WMaps
The iconic site in Southern England that is home to looming stone structures carefully constructed in a mysterious fashion has inspired lore, conspiracy theories, and academic curiosity since it first drew the attention of Western academics in 1882. The ancient site, which dates back to approximately 2400 BCE, has long been a source of mystery.
Now, we're finally getting some answers -- sort of.
A new August 2018 analysis of the cremated remains found at Stonehenge, buried there between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago, has revealed clues as to its residents' ancestry. Apparently, the report finds, a few of those buried at Stonehenge, most likely outsiders, spent the last decade or so of their lives in what is now West Wales.
Answers as to Stonehenge's purpose and its residents' origin had previously long eluded researchers. Now, the knowledge that ancient Stonehenge was also frequented by outsiders makes sense, but inspires new questions, as academics reimagine the ancient site as what was most likely a cemetery for the dead for at least 500 years.
Either way, the mystery lives on.
Want to hear more scientific discoveries from 2018? Check out Parts One and Two of the series on Our Community Now.