13 MIND-BLOW­ING DIS­COV­ER­IES

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Contents - MICHELLE CROUCH

Last year’s top re­search.

1 Three

Earth-size plan­ets that could sus­tain life. As­tronomers found seven plan­ets out­side our so­lar sys­tem that cir­cle a tiny star called TRAPPIST-1, about 40 light-years away. Three are in what NASA calls the hab­it­able zone, which could be right for the ex­is­tence of liq­uid wa­ter and pos­si­bly also for ex­trater­res­trial life.

2 Shrimp

so loud, they were named af­ter a rock band. On the Pa­cific coast of Panama, sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered a new pis­tol shrimp that uses its large claw to cre­ate a noise so loud it can stun – or even kill – small fish. The boom created by the an­i­mal’s snap­ping claw can reach 210 deci­bels. (A loud con­cert is about 120 to 129 deci­bels.) The team mem­bers dubbed it Sy­nalpheus pink­floydi, in­spired by their love of Pink Floyd.

3

A ther­apy that re­verses age­ing in mice. As we age, senes­cent, or dam­aged, cells build up in our

tis­sues, pos­si­bly pro­mot­ing agere­lated dis­eases. Dutch sci­en­tists de­vel­oped a mol­e­cule that purges those cells. When given to ­el­derly mice, their fur re­grew, their kid­ney func­tion im­proved, and they could run twice as far as un­treated mice. One sci­en­tist called it a land­mark ad­vance in the field of age­ing.

4Skin

spray gun for burns vic­tims. Bio­med­i­cal sci­en­tists have created a de­vice that sprays a pa­tient’s own stem cells onto wounds, help­ing them grow a new, healthy layer of skin in as few as four days. Biotech firm Ren­ova­Care re­cently ob­tained a patent for the ­Sk­inGun and has used it to suc­cess­fully treat dozens of burn pa­tients in tri­als. While the de­vice is still await­ing USFDA ap­proval, it’s a game changer that could help elim­i­nate the pain­ful and scar­ring process of skin graft­ing.

5Spi­der

venom that may halt stroke dam­age. A bite from an Aus­tralian fun­nel-web spi­der could kill you in 15 min­utes if left un­treated. But sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that a pep­tide found in the venom of one species of fun­nel web may pro­tect brain cells from be­ing de­stroyed by a stroke, even eight hours af­ter the event. If the treat­ment fares well in hu­man tri­als, it may be­come the first drug that can pro­tect against stroke-in­duced brain dam­age.

6The

Ghost­busters di­nosaur. Sci­en­tists in Toronto iden­ti­fied a new species of di­nosaur and named it Zuul, af­ter the dog­like mon­ster in the 1984 film Ghost­busters. Like its name­sake, the di­nosaur had horns be­hind its eyes, spikes on its face, and a barbed, club-like tail. The di­nosaur’s fos­silised skele­ton, un­earthed in Mon­tana, is one of the most com­plete and best-pre­served anky­losaurs – ­ar­moured, lizard-like di­nosaurs – ever found, with skull and three-me­tre tail in­tact.

7Flu-

fight­ing frog mu­cus. Sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that the slime cov­er­ing the skin of a frog from south­ern In­dia, Hy­drophy­lax bahu­vis­tara, con­tains an­timi­cro­bial pep­tides (the build­ing blocks of pro­tein) that de­stroy bac­te­ria and viruses – in­clud­ing key strains of the hu­man flu – while pro­tect­ing nor­mal cells. So far, the ther­apy has been used only in the lab­o­ra­tory.

8Dragon

blood that kills in­fec­tions. Sci­en­tists found a new anti­microbial com­pound in the blood of Ko­modo dragons, the world’s largest lizards, that ap­pears to help them ward off in­fec­tions that would kill less hardy an­i­mals. (Their saliva con­tains at least 57 species of bac­te­ria that make their bite so deadly to other crea­tures.) In the lab, the sub­stance healed in­fected wounds on mice faster than ex­ist­ing

op­tions, po­ten­tially giv­ing doc­tors a new tool to fight an­tibi­otic-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria.

9An­cient

stone cir­cles in Brazil. Re­searchers us­ing drones iden­ti­fied more than 450 earth­works con­sist­ing of stone cir­cles en­closed by ditches, like that at Stone­henge, in the re­mote north­west­ern part of Brazil, in­di­cat­ing peo­ple lived in the area far ear­lier than sci­en­tists orig­i­nally thought. While their pur­pose is un­clear, they date back at least 1000 years, long be­fore Euro­peans ar­rived on the con­ti­nent.

10An

ar­ti­fi­cial womb to nur­ture pre­m­mies. In what could be a huge break­through in treat­ing pre­ma­ture ba­bies, sci­en­tists suc­cess­fully built an ar­ti­fi­cial womb that was able to keep pre­ma­ture lambs alive and de­vel­op­ing nor­mally. The lambs lived for four weeks inside the de­vice, which looks like an over­size zi­plock bag filled with syn­thetic am­ni­otic fluid. The ‘womb’ could one day help bring hu­man pre­m­mies to term out­side the uterus.

11An

eighth con­ti­nent – ‘hid­den’ under the ocean. Sci­en­tists pre­sented ev­i­dence for a new con­ti­nent – about half the size of Aus­tralia – in the south­west Pa­cific be­neath New Zealand, dubbed Zealan­dia. Even though the land­mass is 94 per cent un­der­wa­ter, ge­ol­o­gists say it meets all the im­por­tant cri­te­ria to be recog­nised as Earth’s eighth con­ti­nent. As no sci­en­tific body for­mally recog­nises con­ti­nents, it re­mains to be seen whether Zealan­dia will ap­pear in fu­ture ge­og­ra­phy text­books.

12A

tool to re­pair DNA in ­em­bryos. Chi­nese sci­en­tists de­vised a gene-edit­ing tech­nique that may elim­i­nate cer­tain dis­ease­caus­ing mu­ta­tions in the DNA of hu­man ­em­bryos. One day it could be used on vi­able hu­man em­bryos to help pre­vent ­ba­bies in­her­it­ing se­ri­ous ge­netic dis­eases. But it has al­ready raised eth­i­cal con­cerns about the po­ten­tial to ef­fec­tively de­sign chil­dren – and al­ter the ge­netic her­itage of hu­mankind.

13A

‘liv­ing drug’ that can kill cancer. An im­munother­apy drug that turns a pa­tient’s own blood cells into cancer killers is on the fast track to USFDA ap­proval. In an on­go­ing clin­i­cal trial, the treat­ment was ad­min­is­tered to ad­vanced lym­phoma pa­tients who had not re­sponded to stan­dard treat­ments or con­tin­ued to re­lapse. At three months, 83 per cent of pa­tients were in com­plete re­mis­sion. As tri­als progress, sci­en­tists hope the ther­apy could be the next big step for­ward in cancer treat­ment.

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