Test-tube sperm

Males… who needs them, huh? Well, apparently not female mice, as scientists in China recently announced in Cell that they created sperm in vitro from mouse stem cells. Zhou et al grew embryonic stem cells alongside extracted mouse testes cells and, with treatment of specific chemicals and hormones, produced spermatid like cells. When used to fertilise mouse eggs the process led to production of viable embryos with a fertility rate of 90%. The technique has the potential to help infertile men, by bypassing problems with sperm production. It’s still early days, and the process is not ready to be used in humans, but this proof-of-principle demonstration is never-the-less still a leap forward in developmental biology.

Robots robots everywhere

The world in 25 years could be unrecognisable according to an article in Nature this week. In a review of predictions related to technological advancements, they state that with an exponential increase in data storage, processing power and machine-to-machine connections (coupled with massive leaps in our understanding of biology) the world around us will change in ways we can’t imagine. By 2040 it is expected that over 1 billion people will have their entire genome sequenced, the ‘internet of things’ will be twice that of the human population and artificially intelligent machines will be common place. Humans tend to look at progress as a linear sequence in the same way a small section of a circle appears straight. However technological progress is in fact exponential. Ray Kurzweil is quoted as saying “we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate)”. What that kind of progress will produce is unimaginable, and I for one will welcome our new robot overlords.

Alien signals? Probably not.

Astronomers came closer this week to solving one of the many mysteries of our universe. Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are intense, non-repeating, millisecond scale bursts of radio waves. 17 FRBs have been detected so far, but up until now astronomers couldn’t say what they were or where they came from leading to exciting speculation of an extra-terrestrial origin. Disappointingly for ET hunters, in early 2015 the Parkes radio telescope in Australia detected a burst of cosmic radio waves and through a quick response from observatories around the world was able to pinpoint an origin. This latest burst was localised to an old elliptical galaxy 6 billion light-years away in the constellation Canis Major. The discovery has enabled astronomies to rule out some possible causes of FRBs and increase the likelihood of others. The favoured theory at the moment is the collision of two massive neutron stars, and while that does sound pretty awesome I’m still hoping for alien civilisations.

Written by Jake Howden