SciTech Briefs

Google teams up with Johnson & Johnson

This past Friday, Google and the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson announced a partnership between Google’s life sciences division and Ethicon, a division of Johnson & Johnson that makes surgical products, to develop new robot-assisted surgery technologies.

Some of the partnership goals include developing software that could highlight features of the body that are crucial but difficult to see, such as blood vessels, nerves, or the margins around a tumor, and also imaging technologies to give surgeons better visuals, all of which can be crucial to successfully removing cancer tumors.

By pursuing this technology, it is evident that Google has ambitions far beyond Internet searching, especially with the creation of its life sciences division, which is part of the Google X research unit.

Source: The New York Times

New headway on Alzheimer’s, heart disease

According to a report from the scientific community in Iceland this past week, in the process of exploring the nation’s genetic makeup, Icelandic scientists have uncovered an unknown gene pool with mutations that may play roles in causing ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease, gallstone, and even heart diseases.

While some diseases, like cystic fibrosis, are caused by a single genetic mutation, the most common ones are caused by multiple mutations, and mutations to a number of different genes can each raise the risk of getting heart disease or even breast cancer, for example.

Many of these diseases, however, are rare, which means it is necessary to sample large groups of people in order to conduct research. This development is unprecedented in that it involves investigating a smaller group of people.

Source: The New York Times

Possibility of alien life on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, is one of the few places where life could potentially exist due to its icy ocean, researchers say. Researchers believe Europa to have an ocean up to 100 kilometers deep, which is 10 times deeper than any ocean on Earth. They also have concluded that the moon could contain twice as much water as Earth, which would meet one of the primary conditions for the existence of life as we know it.

Researchers also believe that they could deduce whether life on Europa is sustainable without actually visiting the moon itself, by investigating in Antarctica, which is the host to a number of hidden lakes. Antarctic lakes are the best analog we have for Europa’s hidden ocean, so, if life can endure the conditions under the Antarctic ice, the odds of finding it on Europa will improve.

Source: BBC

Researches suggest an alternative approach to drugs

The discovery that switching various genes on or off may be able to provide a new treatment strategy other than drugs for various cancers, including breast cancers and ovarian cancers. Drugs often fail to reach the targeted area, proving to be useless, and in many cases even harmful as they affect healthy cells instead of cancerous ones. After trying to approach this problem with drugs, scientists in Australia have been fiddling with the cancerous tissue itself.

“Maybe we can shift the tumor in the direction of the therapy rather than developing the therapy in the direction of the tumor,” says Rob Ramsay from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Along with new treatment development, this discovery could help give patients more information about their chances of survival.

Source: New Scientist

Facebook tests laser drones in U.K. skies

Last Friday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced to the world that various teams at Facebook have been testing large, solar-powered drones in the skies over the U.K. “As part of our effort to connect the world, we’ve designed unmanned aircrafts that can beam Internet access down to people from the sky,” said Zuckerberg in a blog post. “We’ve successfully completed our first test flight of these aircraft in the U.K.”

Ascenta, a Somerset, U.K.-based designer of solar-powered drones, developed the drones, which are designed to fly for months at a time at altitudes of 60,000 feet. The purpose of Facebook’s initiative is to connect at least another billion people to the Internet. The goal is to create new markets for the social network in order to add to the 1.39 billion monthly active users already on Facebook.

Source: The Guardian

Fatty acids suggest the possibility of life on Mars

A molecule that could be a fatty acid, the equivalent of lard, has been found by NASA’s Curiosity Rover in the soil of the Red Planet. It is still unclear if the molecule originates from a biological source. David Glavin, who works on the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, presented the findings at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, last week.

Researchers at NASA discovered that there are similarities between the gases released by samples of the fatty acid and various complex compounds on Earth. This might not be a direct sign of life, but it it does mean that Mars could be host to complex organic molecules, which suggests that microbes could be found there in the future.

Source: New Scientist