7. Engineers Create Transparent Material as Strong as Steel
Engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have created a material similar to "transparent aluminum," the fantastic substance described by Scotty in Star Trek IV. In the Oct. 5 issue of Science, Nicholas Kotov showed that clay is good for far more than making bricks and expensive skincare products. The earthen material is made up of phenomenally strong nanometer-sized particles. When arranged neatly between thin layers of a sticky but weak plastic, the tiny bits of dirt act as the ultimate reinforcements -- giving the ordinary material extraordinary strength. The sturdy composite could be used in lightweight armor or aircraft.
6. Soft Tissue from T. Rex Leg Bone Analyzed
This spring, the oldest patient in the pathology department of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston was a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex. For the first time, scientists have analyzed biological molecules from the ancient creatures. Working with soft tissue from a leg bone that was extremely well-preserved in prehistoric Montana sediments, John Asara read the chemical recipe of a protein that served as a springy structural element in the dinosaur's bones. In the April 13 issue of Science, he and his colleagues compared the deadly predator to animals that roam the earth today and concluded that it has a lot in common with chickens.
5. Laboratory Mice Cured of Rett Syndrome
Researchers affiliated with the Wellcome Trust have shown evidence that Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder that afflicts one in every 10,000 female births, might be curable. Caused by a mutation, the disorder prevents children from walking, talking or speaking and gives them terrible tremors. By creating mice with a similar affliction, Adrian Bird and his colleagues at Edinburgh University and the University of Glasgow tested the effects of fixing the bad gene. In the Feb. 23 issue of Science, they explained that the disease does not cause permanent damage to nerve cells, and breathing problems and tremors in mice stop when they are nudged into producing normal MeCP2 -- the protein corrupted by the disease.
4. Enzymes Convert Any Blood Type to O
Several major Type O blood shortages, including crises at the National Institutes of Health this fall and throughout Georgia in late summer, highlight the importance of creating a versatile blood type. In the rare instance that someone receives a transfusion of the wrong type, deadly reactions (caused by sugar molecules on the surfaces of red blood cells) can cause the immune system to go haywire.
In April, Henrik Clausen, a professor at the University of Denmark, published research in Nature describing a way to convert any kind of blood into Type O -- the type that almost anyone can tolerate. He discovered enzymes that shear the problem-causing sugars from the surfaces of A, B and AB type red blood cells. Produced by bacteria, the molecular machines could theoretically turn any kind of blood into Type O. Clausen and his colleagues described their search for the pacifying proteins in the April 1 issue of Nature Biotechnology.
ZymeQuest, a startup company from Massachusetts, is now developing a device that hospitals can use during blood shortages.
3. Mummified Dinosaur Excavated and Scanned