The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories are slug glue, living longer and reducing fossil fuels.
By Lindsay McGregor.
A sticky situation?
Slugs might not be everyone’s favourite animal to snuggle up to – and they can’t even fetch! However, researchers inspired by the stickiness in the mucus that slugs produce, have developed a range of strong and flexible adhesive materials with many potential medical applications.
Most of us will have had stitches, and there are many types of glue currently being used in medical practice, but these have undesirable properties such as possible toxicity and rigidity, especially with biological tissues. These new adhesives solve these problems with increased flexibility and durability.
They have a hydrogel structure, featuring positively-charged polymers inside water-based gels. The positively-charged particles create a static attraction with the negatively charged cells in the body causing this ‘stickiness’, meanwhile, the hydrogel acts as a matrix, preventing unwanted side effects such as cracking or tearing. It was also found that these could be applied to wet areas effectively and one of the materials could be stretched a massive 14 times its original size without any breakage.
There is still much work and research to be done into the full-scale applications of this goo-glue however this new approach to bio-adhesives is extremely exciting.
Slugs to the rescue
Pinky and the Brain’s stem cells
Stem cells found in the brain may be the key to altering the ageing process and increasing life spans. The hypothalamus has previously been suggested as being linked to the ageing process however a recent paper in Nature indicates that the stem cells found in this region can slow the process of ageing.
The researchers, based at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, found that these stem cells disappear as mice get older and administering viruses to remove these stem cells results in an accelerated ageing process. Conversely, injecting middle aged mice with younger stem cells led to an increase in cognitive and muscular function, when compared to mice of a similar age.
The stem cells release microRNA molecules into the cerebrospinal fluid, which helps to regulate gene expression. When injected into middle-aged mice, these microRNAs were found to slow the process of muscle degeneration and cognitive decline.
Excitingly, this will further our understanding of the ageing process and may lead to advances in anti-aging therapies. And give some of our mousey friends a new lease of life in the meantime.
A new light in the fight against global warming
The target of restricting global warming to 1.5°C, as set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change, has led to many scientists frantically trying to develop ways of removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
Researchers at the US Energy Department and the University of California, Berkeley have developed a crystal photocatalyst that does just that. It operates by extracting CO2 from the air and, via a photocatalytic CO2 reduction reaction, producing carbon monoxide (CO). In the photocatalytic conversion of CO2 to CO, there is also competition with hydrogen (H2) evolution. However, as H2 was not produced in measurable amounts during the reaction, the 100% selective CO production is a welcome result. This CO can then be transformed into a useful source of energy.
Using this photochemical strategy, it is expected that more efficient materials can be developed, providing an alternative fuel source to fossil fuels whilst also helping to tackle climate change.
Take a deep breath
Written by Lindsay McGregor